Time for the Nobel Peace Prize to divest from fossil fuels

The Nobel Peace Prize celebrates individuals who further human rights and peace, but the Nobel Foundation remains invested in fossil fuel companies, a major driver of climate change. This has to change, says Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

nobel concert
A Nobel Peace Prize concert in 2009. The Nobel Foundation's US$460 million endowment remains invested in fossil fuel companies, despite the threat of climate change to society. Image: Vegard Iglebaek, CC BY-NC-2.0

This week the 2016 Nobel Prizes have been celebrated through a week of programming in Stockholm culminating in today’s Nobel ceremony.

As laureates we are proud to have been honoured by the Nobel Foundation, the body that funds and supports the prizes, for our contributions to further human rights and peace in our troubled world.

This week of celebrations gives us an opportunity to look back on the creation of the awards and the just principles the Nobel Foundation is based on.

When Alfred Nobel’s will was made public in 1896, it largely came as a surprise that the inventor of dynamite, a tool of destruction, had decided to establish a dedicated prize for the promotion of peace.

Whether it was an act of atonement, as Albert Einstein suggested, remains as speculation but many give Nobel’s friend Bertha von Suttner credit for the establishment of the peace prize. She had spent years trying to engage Nobel in the peace movement.

When he finally informed her about his decision, she knew that her efforts had not been futile. She wrote, “Whether I am around then or not does not matter; what we have given, you and I, is going to live on.” In 1905, nine years after Nobel’s death, she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Over a century later, keeping the legacy of Nobel and von Suttner alive is as important as ever. Humanity is confronted by one of the greatest threats it has ever faced: climate change. Only last week, even senior military figures warned that climate change is the ‘greatest security threat of the 21st century’.

We know that peace, war, human rights, the health of our planet and its climate are inextricably interwoven. Climate change has a multiplier effect on conflicts over resources and the impacts of climate change are disproportionately felt by the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. It is often women who bear the brunt of these impacts in particular. 

Climate change has for example been linked to the rise of Boko Haram, the militant extremists that killed thousands of people in Nigeria, forced more than 2 million to flee from their homes and abducted hundreds of women and children such as the kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok that received widespread media attention.

Global warming has caused Lake Chad, one of the world’s biggest lakes, to shrink so much over the past 30 years, that is has almost disappeared. As a result, farmers and fishers were robbed of their livelihoods leading to high levels of unemployment and poverty - fertile ground that Boko Haram was able to capitalise on.

Where conflicts over resources exist, democracy and human rights often take a back seat and climate change, if not always directly triggering these, certainly exacerbates those conflicts. This connection between climate change and peace is why we as Peace Prize laureates have spoken out the need to take urgent action to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

The Nobel Foundation should not profit from the destruction of our climate.

The Nobel committee itself decided to highlight that climate change puts peace in peril when it awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

Yet, surprisingly to us, the Nobel Foundation’s endowment worth more than $460 million, which funds the Peace and various science prizes, remains invested in companies that have caused the most damage to our climate. It is our profound belief that the business model of the fossil fuel industry to fully exploit coal, oil and gas reserves is incompatible with a safe and peaceful planet. The Nobel Foundation should not profit from the destruction of our climate.

Alfred Nobel wanted the Nobel Prize to work ‘for the greatest benefit to [hu]mankind’. In this time of urgency, an institution with such a mandate has the opportunity to show leadership and inspire others by setting an example and aligning its endowment with its mission.

Resisting Bertha von Suttner’s efforts to get him involved in the peace movement, Alfred Nobel challenged his friend saying, “Inform me, convince me, and then I will do something great for the [peace] movement”.

In this spirit, we have joined Nobel Prize winners and scientists calling on the Nobel Foundation to divest from fossil fuels. In standing by the values that it was founded on, the Nobel Foundation can keep Alfred Nobel and Bertha von Suttner’s legacy alive in the 21st century.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a South African social rights activist and the 1984 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. This post is republished from the Thomson Reuters Foundation. 

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