Former Vice President Al Gore, who wrapped up a remarkable year of honors Friday by sharing the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with a U.N. scientific panel, said he will use the award to heighten awareness of "a true planetary emergency" from global warming and press the world's nations to combat its threats.
For Gore, the award was a measure of vindication for his passionate commitment to the issue of climate change in the face of occasional ridicule as well as pointed political criticism dating back two decades. Coming seven years after a bitter defeat in his bid to win the White House, it also rekindled speculation about a possible 2008 presidential run, which his aides quickly sought to squelch.
In a statement issued shortly after the award was announced in Norway, Gore said he was deeply honored to be cited for his work and to share the prize with the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a Geneva-based committee of scientists established in 1988 to assess the dangers of man-made climate change.
"The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity," Gore said. "It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level."
Later, in a brief appearance in Palo Alto, Calif., with his wife, Tipper, at his side, he told reporters, "We have to quickly find a way to change the world's consciousness about exactly what we're facing." He declined to answer questions.
The decision by the Norwegian Nobel Committee drew widespread praise among Democrats and environmentalists, a more measured response from the White House and outright scorn from some conservatives.
The awarding of the prize to Gore and the IPCC highlights the extent to which climate change now occupies a central place in the public debate over the world's economic and environmental future.
John Ashton, Britain's special representative for climate change, said the award signals that the international community has "crossed a threshold" when it comes to global warming. "The international community now understands this is not only an environmental challenge like other environmental challenges, it is a fundamental challenge to international peace and security," he said in an interview.
Reaction in Europe, where the Bush administration has been seen as resistant to addressing the climate change issue, was strongly positive among politicians across the ideological spectrum.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called Gore "inspirational." French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he was happy that "a great American used his position to set an example." European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he hoped Gore's honor would encourage world leaders to "approach this challenge even more swiftly and decisively."
In winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Gore completed an unusual trifecta of awards for the year. The movie "An Inconvenient Truth," which highlighted his climate change crusade, won Oscars for best documentary and best original song. Gore also won an Emmy for the interactive work of Current TV, a cable channel he helped found.
The Nobel committee described Gore as "probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted."
The award came seven years after Gore lost his bid for the White House when a bitter recount in Florida and a narrow Supreme Court decision effectively ended his campaign and put President Bush in office. Gore won the popular vote, and his failure to win the presidency was a blow that took him many months to get over.
From that searing experience, he has built a new career in which he has mixed business ventures with his long-standing interest in technology and the environment to emerge as the most visible advocate for confronting threats to the planet from global warming. Along the way he has also made himself wealthy, largely through investments in technology firms such as Google.
Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., who sat in the first Senate climate change hearings along with Gore back in 1987, recalled Friday how little interest those hearings generated. "This is a very important statement of transition on a global level," Kerry said. "It's not only a tribute to Al's work, but a wakeup call to the administration and the U.S., who has been the global delayer on this."
Gore watched the Nobel announcement live at 2 a.m. (PDT) while overnighting in San Francisco. Spokeswoman Kalee Kreider said he realized he had won only when he heard the name "Gore" coming through from the Norwegian official.
Gore was in California for meetings of the Alliance for Climate Protection, a nonprofit advocacy group he helped establish to change public opinion and generate action by individuals. He said he and his wife would donate his share of the $1.5 million award to the group.
While Gore received most of the public accolades, IPCC officials also celebrated the award Friday. IPCC Secretary Renate Christ, who discovered the panel had won only after checking the Nobel Prize Web site at 11 a.m. Geneva time, said the panel had fulfilled its mission of providing "balanced and unbiased information" about climate change. "Policymakers have to take the final decision of how to respond to the knowledge," she said.
Former President Bill Clinton and the Democratic presidential candidates rushed to applaud Gore. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, N.Y., praised his "dedication and tireless work," while Sen. Barack Obama, Ill., called him "an extraordinary leader" who had "advanced the cause of peace ... around the world."
White House spokesman Tony Fratto described the president as happy for Gore and the U.N. panel. "Obviously it's an important recognition and we're sure the vice president is thrilled," he said.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who supports measures to combat climate change, praised Gore, but other Republicans were either silent or critical of the Nobel panel.
Peter Wehner, a former White House official now with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, a conservative think tank, said the Nobel prize long has been devalued by conservatives, who see it as a way to send a message of disapproval to Bush. "If you either lost to Bush or are highly critical of Bush, I think your odds of winning the Nobel Peace Prize increase exponentially," he said.
The last American to win was former President Jimmy Carter, who received the prize in 2002, and who also has been sharply critical of Bush. Conservatives noted that the peace prize also has gone to such controversial figures as former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
Nor did all scientists welcome Friday's news: MIT atmospheric physicist Richard Lindzen, who has criticized Gore's presentation and argued that global warming will not be catastrophic, said the award, along with the Oscar earned by "An Inconvenient Truth," demonstrates "that this issue has become more of a political and fashion issue than a scientific one."
The award came two days after a British judge ruled that, while Gore's documentary makes a strong case that human activity has contributed to global warming and that there is a sense of urgency to deal with it, the movie contained nine factual errors not supported by scientific consensus.
The Nobel award produced an immediate reaction from grass-roots groups seeking to draft Gore for a 2008 presidential campaign. Gore has repeatedly said the chances of his running are negligible but has not firmly closed the door. Aides moved to tamp down speculation that he might use the recognition to jump into the race. "He has no intentions of running for president in 2008," Kreider told reporters in Palo Alto.
Michael Feldman, a Gore adviser, said Friday in an e-mail message: "He has been very consistent in his public statements about his plans, and I don't think this affects his posture at all. He remains fully focused on trying to help solve the climate crisis."
Roy Neel, another longtime Gore adviser, said he had talked to the former vice president after the announcement. "I think he feels a little humbled by this," he said. As for the possible 2008 implications, he said the award might increase the importance of the issue of climate change in the campaign dialogue.