Attending the Nobel Peace Prize Forum: How to Solve the Climate Crisis

By Philip M. Hellmich

The Nobel Peace Prize has become synonymous with integrity, courage, and justice, while also having the ability to bring much needed attention to priorities in the world. It is many people’s dream to attend the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway. I had that opportunity this past December when I was invited by Phyllis Blees, founder of Peace Through Commerce (PTC), to join her team for the Nobel Peace Prize Forum. (Phyllis and I had met when I interviewed her in The Shift Network’s 2012 Summer of Peace. We kept in touch over the years due to our great mutual respect for each other’s work.)

Peace Through Commerce is a co-sponsor of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, a two-day dialogue that takes place in Oslo, Norway immediately following the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremonies. On December 10, the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. For more information on their groundbreaking work, click here.

The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Forum that followed the awards was focused on how to solve the climate crisis, with former Vice President Al Gore as the keynote speaker. Gore had won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his “efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”

The Nobel Peace Prize Forum was an intimate event by invitation only, with the first day being held at the University of Oslo and the second day at the Norwegian Nobel Institute. I was deeply touched by the leadership role that the people of the Norwegian Nobel Institute are playing to bring attention to these global issues, leveraging the credibility of the Nobel Peace Prize with boldness and humility.

Some of the highlights of the Nobel Peace Prize Forum included:


Philip (left) with Al Gore at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.

  • Al Gore highlighted the urgency of climate change and the need for “all hands on deck” as scientific research is overwhelmingly pointing to growing risk of natural disasters. Mr. Gore also said that he is optimistic due to the number of initiatives underway to address climate change. He did speak candidly about how the Trump Administration is undermining climate change efforts. Even with President Trump’s activities, Mr. Gore believes the world is approaching a political tipping point where there will be greater collaboration to find solutions. (Click here to see Al Gore’s 30-minute interview with Norwegian talk show host Ole Torp — the first minutes are in Norwegian, the rest in English.)

Philip (left) with part of the Peace Through Commerce team, (l-r) Michelle Waters, Jimmy Carter, and Phyllis Blees.

  • A Whole Systems Approach is Needed: The Norwegian Nobel Institute intentionally invited people from different sectors of society to participate in the Forum — finance, business, environment, media, science, peace, and security, etc. They see that there are many efforts underway to address climate change and that people in the different sectors need to be in conversation with one another so they can develop whole-systems and synergistic approaches.
    Peace Through Commerce was tasked with bringing a whole-systems perspective to the Forum, using their Matrix of Peace model. PTC will be generating a report, which we will share in a later edition of Catalyst.

Philip (left) with Don Shelby and Khotan Harmon (right).

  • Media can Improve its Coverage of Climate Change: Don Shelby is an award-winning investigative journalist who has covered climate change for over 30 years. Don pointed out several challenges with media and climate change, including:
    • In an attempt to provide “balance reporting,” journalists often give 50 percent air time to climate change experts and 50 percent time to people who do not believe climate change exists. Don believes this is a huge disservice to the public because over 97 percent of scientists are saying climate change is real, it is impacted by human behavior, and there are serious potential consequences.
    • Scientists need to communicate better with the general public in ways that they can understand and that is relevant to their lives. Don gave the example of when asked if a recent storm was caused by climate change, many scientists will say we cannot prove it. Don said a metaphor would work better and he gave the example of a professional baseball player using performance-enhancing drugs. Don said the baseball player could be hitting 25 home runs a year prior to taking drugs. After taking drugs, the number of home runs jumps to 50 or 60 a year plus the distance of the home runs is longer. The same is true with devastating storms — there were storms prior to climate change and now because of climate change, the frequency and intensity of storms are increasing.
    • (Note: Don Shelby is also known for his “Shelby” necktie knot. Click here to see a video of Don Shelby demonstrating his legendary Shelby necktie knot.)

Philip in conversation with Alexander Verbeek at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.

  • Climate Change is Impacting Peace and Security: Alexander Verbeek is one of the world’s leading experts on climate change, peace, and security, having served with the Dutch Foreign Ministry for over 25 years. In my interview with him, he shared how there is growing concern in the international community that climate change is impacting peace and security, especially the most marginalized populations around the world. He gave examples of population movements in sub-Saharan Africa and central America due to climate change making areas uninhabitable. The population movements create conflict with neighbors over resources. With the increase of climate change, it is likely we will see more “climate refugees” and the inevitable instability and conflicts that result. National governments and international agencies are increasingly looking at how to respond to the growing crisis. (Philip's 31-minute video interview with Alexander Verbeek will be featured in the next issue of Catalyst.)

Philip with Dr. Thina Saltvedt at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.

  • Financial Institutions are Addressing Climate Change: Dr. Thina Margrethe Saltvedt, the head of the Sustainable Finance Division of Nordea Bank, Norway, reported that financial institutions are investing with climate change in mind and that this trend will continue to grow. She is optimistic that financial institutions will play a leadership role in moving towards sustainable businesses and energy supplies. Click here to see my impromptu interview with Thina and click here for an article about Thina called Investing in the Future.)

Philip with Aaron Cramer at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum.

  • Climate Change Is Affecting Food Supply: Director-General José Graziano da Silva, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, warned of increased conflict and hunger if climate change is left unabated. He went on to say, "We will not be able to produce enough for the (world's) growing population" and that crop yields "will be dropping even in irrigated areas and that all cereals are expected to be affected by ‘low and erratic production.’" He also pointed out that food is becoming less nutritious and that prices are likely to increase due to climate change. (For more information, click here.)

  • Businesses are Addressing Climate Change and Social Conflicts: In an impromptu interview with Aron Cramer, President and CEO of Business for Social Responsibility, he highlighted that there is a direct relationship between peace and businesses — businesses need peaceful societies in order to operate. Climate change is contributing to social conflicts in places like Bangladesh, Central America, etc. Aaron sees an increase of businesses working to mitigate social conflict and to address climate change. (Click here to see my impromptu interview with Aaron Cramer.)

  • Cities Are Addressing Climate Change: Following President Trump’s announcement of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, hundreds of cities announced they will meet the intentions of the agreement. Daniel Zarrilli, the Chief Climate Policy Advisor in New York City’s Office of the Mayor, gave a passionate presentation at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum about New York City’s large-scale, systematic approach to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, compared to 2005 levels. The strategy includes state-of-the-art approaches in buildings, energy, waste, and transportation sectors.

  • I Have a Dream: I came away from the Nobel Peace Prize Forum better informed, inspired, and energized. The challenges are clear and there are strategies emerging in many sectors.
    I also found myself wanting a clear vision, and for someone to announce: “I have a dream...” about how the world will be different when we successfully address climate change — just as Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous speech was in part about making the world a better place beyond racial discrimination.
    I asked Alexander Verbeek what success will look like when we, humanity, get beyond climate change. He said the world will have an unprecedented level of global cooperation as never seen before.
    It is clear that humanity is being forced to come together in new ways to address the shared problem of climate change. The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize Forum was one more step in moving us toward a world where humanity works together to create a better and sustainable world.
    It is time for all of us to envision a world where we successfully address the threat of climate change and to live into that vision.
    Question for you (click here to respond): What is your dream: How will the world be different after humanity successfully addresses climate change?

Click here to watch a 45-minute video  interview with Philip, who not only shares insights from his revealing and profound book, God and Conflict, but passionately speaks to the power of peacebuilding, offering concrete examples of how we can move from inner to international peace.


Catalyst is produced by The Shift Network to feature inspiring stories and provide information to help shift consciousness and take practical action. To receive Catalyst twice a month, sign up here.

This article appears in: 2019 Catalyst, Issue 2: The Interview Issue