OSLO, Oct 5 (Reuters) Former US Vice President Al Gore and other campaigners against climate change lead experts' choices for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, an award once reserved for statesmen, peacemakers and human rights activists.
If a campaigner against global warming carries off the high world accolade later this month, it will accentuate a shift to reward work outside traditional peacekeeping and reinforce the link between peace and the environment.
The winner, who will take 1.5 million dollars in prize money, will be announced in the Norwegian capital on October. 12 from a field of 181 nominees.
Gore, who has raised awareness with his book and Oscar-winning documentary ''An Inconvenient Truth'', and Canadian Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, who has shed light on how global warming affects Arctic peoples, were nominated to share the prize by two Norwegian parliamentarians.
''I think they are likely winners this year,'' said Stein Toennesson, director of Oslo's International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) and a long-time Nobel Peace Prize watcher.
''It will certainly be tempting to the (Nobel) committee to have two North Americans -- one the activist that personifies the struggle against climate change, raising awareness, and the other who represents some of the victims of climate change.'' Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, agreed the award committee could establish the link between peace and the environment.
''I think the whole issue of climate change and the environment will come at some point and reflect in the prize,'' Egeland told reporters last week.
''There are already climate wars unfolding ... And the worst area for that is the Sahel belt in Africa.'' There has been a shift to reward work away from the realm of conventional peacemaking and human rights work.
In 2004, Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai won for her campaign to get women to plant trees across Africa. Last year's prize went to Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus and his Grameen Bank for their efforts to lift millions out of poverty through a system of tiny loans.
IN WITH A CHANCE Toennesson said others with a chance included former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, a perennial nominee for decades of peace mediation work, and dissident Vietnamese monk Thich Quang Do for his pro-democracy efforts.
His shortlist also includes Russian human rights lawyer Lidia Yusupova, who has fought for victims of war in Chechnya, and Rebiya Kadeer, an advocate for China's Uighur minority.
The secretive five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee does not disclose the names of nominees, though some who make nominations go public with their candidates.
Toennesson said by giving the award to those fighting climate change, the committee would thrust itself into the public debate ahead of a key UN climate conference in Bali, Indonesia, in December.
If Gore is seen as too political, the committee could opt instead for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- the scientists who advise the United Nations and produce key reports on the climate problem, Toennesson said.
To give it a face, the prize could be shared by the IPCC's Indian chairman Rajendra Pachauri, experts said, though Pachauri told Reuters in London he did not think he stood a chance.
''I have a feeling it will go to Al Gore, and I think he deserves it. He certainly has done a remarkable job of creating awareness on the subject and has become a crusader,'' he said.
Watt-Cloutier told Reuters she was flattered to be mentioned as a possible winner but did not expect to win.
Toennesson said Ahtisaari deserves the prize most for helping to bring peace to the Aceh region of Indonesia in 2005.
REUTERS JK RK1450