Kenya's Wangari Maathai urged a fight against deforestation on Wednesday on her arrival in Oslo to collect the Nobel Peace Prize amid controversy about whether the award has lost its way by embracing environmentalism.
OSLO Kenya's Wangari Maathai urged a fight against deforestation on Wednesday on her arrival in Oslo to collect the Nobel Peace Prize amid controversy about whether the award has lost its way by embracing environmentalism.
Maathai, Kenya's deputy environment minister, will be the first African woman and ecologist to win the century-old prize on Friday when she receives a gold Nobel medal, a diploma and a check for 10 million Swedish crowns ($1.49 million).
The movement she leads has planted about 30 million trees across Africa to combat deforestation and fights for women's rights, justice and democracy in Kenya.
"What's important is that we plant more than we cut, manage the trees sustainably, make sure that the future generations also can cut," she told NRK public radio on arrival.
"It does keep the deserts away, definitely stops erosion, wind erosion, it helps stabilise the land."
But experts at a seminar in Oslo were divided about whether the five-member Nobel awards committee has betrayed a century-old tradition by linking environmentalism to peacemaking and conflict prevention.
The United Nations and some governments say that global warming, linked to burning fossil fuels, could be the biggest long-term threat to humanity. A warmer world could raise sea levels and bring catastrophic droughts or floods.
"There can be no lasting peace unless we also make peace with nature," Norwegian Environment Minister Knut Hareide told the expert seminar, praising the award.
But critics say that the Nobel Committee, and many environmentalists and governments, have wrongly tried to link their cause with buzzwords like 'security' after the end of the Cold War.
"If you link the environment to security you risk undermining the environment as a goal in itself," said Ole Jacob Sending, a senior researcher at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.
"This is potentially destructive to the environmental movement," he said, adding that much research shows that deforestation and other environmental degradation has never been more than a small factor in spurring conflicts.
But David Sandalow, environment scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said conflict in the troubled Darfur region in Sudan was linked to drought and poor land management that spread deserts.
And a communist insurgency in the Philippines had underlying causes of poverty caused by land-grabbing and logging. He said that the Nobel Committee had been wise in saying that "peace on earth depends on our ability to secure our living environment."
And he noted that the environment was sometimes a first area of cooperation to help states overcome mistrust.
"It's no accident that in the 1970s, as doors between China and the United States opened for the first time in decades, the Chinese government sent a panda to the United States as a symbol of rapprochement," he said.