Greta Thunberg’s Cause Could Have Cost Her Peace Prize: No Science to Connect Climate Change to Conflict

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate change activist from Sweden, attends a Senate Climate Change Task Force meeting on Capitol Hill, on September 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. On September 20th students from around the world plan a walk out to demand action on climate change. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish girl who has become the international face of the youth climate change movement, has been passed up by the Peace Research Institute in Oslo for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

Thunberg was a bookmaker favorite to win the prize, and her almost 3 million Twitter followers also were hopeful she would win for her attempt to convince world leaders that the United Nations is correct in its estimation that man-made climate change could lead to mass extinction. But the prize committee disagreed.

It chose Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who put in place a peace process to finally end a 20-year conflict with neighboring Eritrea.

But the Washington Post reported Thunberg’s cause may not be the right vehicle for a peace prize, and then tried to make the case that it should be. According to the report:

Henrik Urdal, the head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, omitted Thunberg from the Nobel Peace Prize shortlist he publishes. He explained his decision to the Washington Post, saying there “isn’t scientific consensus that there is a linear relationship between climate change — or resource scarcity, more broadly — and armed conflict.”

The link between climate change and conflict is hotly debated. But climate change scholars say that while there isn’t a straightforward relationship, there is a recognition that climate change adds to stresses in regions that could spark political instability and conditions that could foster conflict. The Pentagon has called climate change a “threat multiplier.”

The prize has gone to environmental champions before. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former vice president Al Gore won “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.” In 2004, it was given to Wangari Maathai “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” In 1970, it went to Norman Borlaug, sometimes called the “father of the green revolution.”

Urdal told the Post that those awards could be a thing of the past because of what Alfred Nobel hoped the prize would represent.

“In his will outlining the prize, Nobel wrote that the recipient should be someone who has advanced the ‘abolition or reduction of standing armies’ — which some have interpreted as requiring a direct connection to peace and conflict,” the Post reported.

“If you make it too broad, it becomes a bit meaningless,” Urdal said.

The Post then checked in with a politics professor at the University of Oslo, who called Thunberg a “wild card” nominee.

“The link between climate change and conflict is still ‘quite tenuous at this point,’ she said in the Post report. “Everyone sees flooding can cause conflict, migration and so on, but this is no way well established as a security policy issue yet.”

The Post also speculated that it could have been poor timing for Thunberg since the committee puts together its shortlist of nominees at the end of January — before the teen made a splash with her transatlantic sail from Europe to New York on a solar-powered racing yacht and her fiery speech at the United Nations calling out adults for failing to address climate change.

On Friday when the announcement was made Thunberg was in Denver with other teens who skipped school to protest climate change.

Follow Penny Starr on Twitter


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.