Alternative Nobel Prizes awarded to peace work, solar energy and biodiversity

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Efforts by 2007 Right Livelihood Award winners were hailed as "wake-up calls" at an awards ceremony in the Swedish parliament Friday by philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull.

7 December 2007

Stockholm (dpa) - Nuclear weapons constitute a strong threat to global security, legal scholar Christopher Weeramantry from Sri Lanka said.

The former member of the International Court of Justice was one of the winners of the 2007 Right Livelihood Awards, often called the Alternative Nobel Prize.

Weeramantry, who has waged a long campaign against nuclear weapons as a judge and author of several books, said "use of nuclear weapons is totally contrary to basic international law," citing his own research that used ancient tracts including 3,000-year-old Hindu texts.

He said that the official nuclear powers have to do more to begin disarming their nuclear weapon arsenals and by doing so it will mean so-called rogue states would not feel pressure to acquire nuclear arms themselves.

"If that is not being done, there is a basic violation of international human law," he said.

The threat of nuclear weapons being used included the spread of knowledge on how to build a bomb, insufficient safeguards and incomplete inventories of nuclear facilities and material, he said.

"The dangers are growing but the general public does not conceive this," he said, adding that they still had the conception that nuclear weapons have provided peace for over 60 years.

The awards were created in 1980 by Swedish-German philanthropist Jakob von Uexkull, who said "the prize is becoming more and more important for the future of our planet."

Von Uexkull created the awards in 1980, often called the Alternative Nobel Prizes, said "giving freely of our time, money, resources and knowledge to support best practices and policies is not charity, but rather a moral duty"

Worth 2 million kronor ($310,000) it was to be shared equally between the four prize-winners who receive their awards Friday.

Other 2007 winners were Percy and Louise Schmeiser of Saskatchewan, Canada who have defended biodiversity and farmers' rights, and are engaged against genetic engineering of crops, including a legal battle with agribusiness firm Monsanto.

Genetically modified organisms (GMO) "were dangerous to indigenous plants," Percy Schmeiser said, saying, "once you introduce GMOs there is no turning back."

GMOs also required a "massive increase of chemicals to control superweeds that have developed," he said, noting lower yields.

Another winner was Bangladesh's Grameen Shakti organization that since 1996 promotes solar energy for the rural poor.

"In Bangladesh there are 145 million people but only 30 per cent have access to electricity," Grameen Shakti's managing director Dipal Barua said.

There are now 120,000 solar systems in use that offer power for mobile phones, clinics, small shops, and homes.

"Energy is a primary essential to activate all economic activity in a household or enterprise," Barua said, noting that "with energy you can run computers, mobile telephone chargers, access the internet."

Grameen Shakti hopes to install a million solar systems by 2015 and was slated to sign a deal with the World Bank as a Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the Kyoto Protocol. That would allow developed countries to invest in the project, Barua said.

The group has also promoted biogas plants that use cow dung or poultry manure to provide fertilizer and gas for cooking.

Grameen Shakti is part of the Grameen Bank group that along with founder Muhammad Yunus was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

Dekha Ibrahim Abdi of Kenya planned to use her share of the prize to create "a barefoot university" to develop practical means to promote inter-faith dialogue as a means to build peace.

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