SHARE
COPY LINK

NOBEL PEACE PRIZE

Greta Thunberg unlikely to win Nobel Peace Prize despite good odds, experts say

Bookmakers seem confident that Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg is a shoo-in for the Nobel Peace Prize to be announced this week, but some experts are more cautious.

Greta Thunberg unlikely to win Nobel Peace Prize despite good odds, experts say
Activists in Stockholm with a placard depicting Greta Thunberg. Photo: AFP

The 16-year-old has already received Amnesty International's top honour and the Right Livelihood Award, sometimes dubbed the “alternative Nobel”, and online betting sites like Ladbrokes now put her as favourite to win what is perhaps the world's most prestigious prize.

In an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS in August, Thunberg stressed that while the award would be “a recognition for this movement,” she and her supporters weren't “doing this to get awards and prizes.”

In August last year, she began sitting alone in front of Sweden's parliament on Fridays with a sign reading “School Strike for the Climate”. 

In a little more than a year, she has galvanised millions of young people around the world to take part in demonstrations to raise awareness for action on climate change.

She made global headlines in late September when she lambasted world leaders at the UN climate summit in New York.

“How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she told them, holding back tears.

READ ALSO: 'How dare you?' How Greta Thunberg started a global climate movement

But is her impassioned wake-up call enough to earn her the Nobel Peace Prize?

“Extremely unlikely,” Henrik Urdal, director of the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (Prio), told AFP, citing two reasons for his scepticism.

He argued that while some say climate change might aggravate conflicts in his view there is still no consensus on whether it is actually the cause of armed conflict. He also said her tender age could make the prize more of a burden than a reward.

“The only way I could see that happen is that she would be part of a shared prize like Malala,” Urdal said, referring to Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who shared the 2014 prize — at age 17 — with Indian children's rights activist Kailash Satyarthi.

Norwegian historian Asle Sveen echoed that view.

“Of course she is now an international star, in conflict with Donald Trump, and she put the searchlight on climate change better than anyone else,” he said. 

READ ALSO: Greta Thunberg mocks jibes by Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump

“What's against her is that she is only 16 years old,” he continued, adding that he would be “very surprised” if she got the award.

But Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri), believes Thunberg should be considered a “serious candidate” and that climate change is linked to conflict.

“First of all, I think that what she has done over the past year is extraordinary,” Smith told AFP.

“I think that climate change is an issue which is strongly related to security and peace.”

READ ALSO: From the archive: The Local's first interview with Greta Thunberg

Experts think a more likely candidate would be Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who made peace with bitter foe Eritrea.

“Abiy Ahmed would be a good candidate, as his tenure has had peace-inducing effects in the country and on the region,” said Peter Wallensteen, professor of Peace and Conflict Research at Sweden's Uppsala University. 

Predicting the winner is always a challenge since the Norwegian Nobel Committee never reveals the names of the nominees. All that is known is that a total of 301 individuals and organisations have been nominated this year.

Experts also suggest that the five-person committee could this year decide to focus on freedom of expression and information, at a time when such freedoms are under pressure in both democracies and authoritarian regimes.

“In the age of fake news and information overload… and the lack of transparency, the lack of accountability in many political processes, this is something that I would hope the committee would take very seriously and consider,” Urdal said.

Press organisations such as Reporters Without Borders (RSF) or the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) could then be possible winners.

As the migration crisis continues to dominate the political agenda, the UN refugee agency UNHCR and its head Filippo Grandi, as well as the organisation SOS Mediterranee, are also seen as potential winners.

Broadly considered a controversial long shot, US President Donald Trump has nonetheless been mentioned for his efforts to mend old wounds with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The 2019 laureate will be revealed on Friday at 11am at the Nobel Institute in Oslo.

Last year, the award — consisting of a gold medal, a diploma, and nine million Swedish kronor — was given to two champions fighting sexual violence, Congolese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege and Yazidi activist Nadia Murad.

READ ALSO: Greta Thunberg receives Amnesty's top human rights award

 

For members

OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Sweden’s incredible disappearing climate election 

The campaign so far suggests that Sweden's image as a paragon of virtue on the environment might be at risk, says David Crouch

OPINION: Sweden’s incredible disappearing climate election 

Four years ago next month, a 15-year-old girl sat down on the cobblestones outside parliament in central Stockholm. She refused to go to school until Sweden’s general election that September, to draw attention to the climate crisis.

July 2018 had been the hottest in Sweden since records began 262 years ago, and forest fires had ravaged large parts of the countryside. Greta Thunberg’s school strike gave voice to a pent-up feeling that something must be done to curb global warming.

Within months, she had become one of the world’s best-known figures in the climate debate, leading mass protests for immediate and radical action. 

But this Friday, July 1, Thunberg was back on the cobbles outside parliament with just four supporters, repeating her message of 2018. She might be tempted to ask, after all her campaigning: why doesn’t the climate have a higher profile in this year’s Swedish elections? 

There is every reason for it to do so. According to the latest report from the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, the world has “a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future”. Some damage was already irreversible and ecosystems were reaching the limits of their ability to cope. Their findings were an “atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership,” said UN secretary-general António Guterres. 

Sweden’s self-image as a leader on green issues is undermined by recent slippage, delay and prevarication. In 2017, left and right came together to agree that the country should become “the world’s first fossil-free welfare state”, with zero carbon emissions by 2045 and negative ones thereafter. Sweden became the first nation to enshrine this target in law. However, the country is not on target to achieve this goal. In its latest assessment, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency said more measures would be necessary to prevent progress from slipping further behind on its climate transformation. 

As for other environmental targets that the country committed to achieve by 2020, 15 out of the 16 goals have not been reached. Growth, prosperity and consumption are taking precedence over the environment, researcher Katarina Eckerberg told Dagens Nyheter: “It’s the elephant in the room. No one dares to tell the truth, we are [just] trying to polish the surface a bit.” 

At the party-political level, climate policy seems to have stalled. Since Magdalena Andersson took office in the autumn, the “climate collegium” (klimatkollegium), set up in 2020 as a place for ministers to discuss essential climate initiatives, has not met. Party leaders debated energy and climate in public in early May, but the focus was on the hit to citizens’ pockets caused by rising fuel prices, with left and right united on lowering taxes. What we do for the climate in Sweden won’t bring down the temperature in India, said Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson, whose party rejects the 2045 zero-carbon target. The Green Party, who left the government in November, has seen its ratings sink steadily lower in the polls. 

Sweden’s greenhouse gas emissions actually increased by 4% in 2021 – partly because the economy bounced back after Covid, but still a worrying trend. Almost 80% of wind power projects in the country were vetoed by local municipalities, as the kommuner increasingly say no to wind power, putting a spoke in the wheels of Sweden’s green transformation.

This all adds up to climate taking a back seat so far in this year’s general election campaign. This is in sharp contrast to Norway’s “climate election” last autumn, which saw the country’s reliance on oil come in for sharp criticism and success for parties campaigning on green issues. The climate dominated the campaigning in Norway after the IPCC published a “code red” warning on the climate. For Germans also deciding whom to vote for last September, alarming events at home and abroad drove home the urgency of the climate crisis, with deadly heat waves, wildfires and devastating floods that left more the 200 dead.

More recently, the Australian election in May became essentially a climate election, with the victorious centre-left putting climate change and environmental policy firmly back on the agenda. Closer to home, a feature of elections in Denmark and Finland in 2019 was that the climate also enjoyed a profile higher than ever before.

Meanwhile, however, the world seems to be going backwards on the climate. This week, the US Supreme Court ruled that the country’s main environmental regulator has no power to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Thanks to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, demand for coal has shot up. Just months after the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, there is a backlash in business circles against so-called “woke capitalism”, with the idea of environmental investment coming under attack from populist politicians and financiers.

Swedes themselves are consistently well-informed and concerned about the environment. The environment and climate are around fifth on the list of voters’ main concerns, after crime, health, schools and inflation. Immigration and refugee issues, which have long dominated the Swedish debate, are in sixth place, while defence and security – despite the debate over Nato – are down in seventh place, according to an Ipsos poll in June.

But at the polling booth, when it comes to casting their vote, it seems that most Swedes have little faith that political parties will make much difference. Despite the fact that the climate had such a high profile in 2018, the issue did not even end up among the top 10 reasons for choosing a party to vote for, according to polling station surveys commissioned by SVT. Instead, voters feel this is a global problem rather than a Swedish one. “It wouldn’t matter if every Swede held their breath so as not to emit a single molecule more of carbon dioxide – progress would still be negative,” the head of polling company Novus told Svensk Dagbladet last month.

So Sweden seems set to continue to make slow but unspectacular – and even disappointing – progress on the climate in coming years. It would be a shame if the country, with its solid record on the environment and its fondness for grand declarations about the future, were to become a byword for greenwashing rather than a beacon for a better world. Greta and her supporters have work to do here at home.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

SHOW COMMENTS