By Matt Spetalnick
WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Call it Al Gore’s revenge.
The Nobel Peace Prize he won on Friday was a blow to U.S. President George W. Bush and his widely criticized environmental policy and will long be savored by the man who lost the bitter 2000 presidential election by a whisker.
The honor was bestowed jointly on the former vice president and the U.N. climate panel for campaigning against the threat of global warming, in a not-so-subtle swipe at Bush, a latecomer to the battle against climate change.
It may also be interpreted as a part of an international backlash not only against seven years of what many see as environmental backsliding under Bush but also against his Iraq war policy and perceived arrogance in world affairs.
"The Nobel Committee’s recognition of Vice President Gore shines a bright light on the most inconvenient truth of all -- the selection of George Bush as president has endangered the peace and prosperity of the entire planet," said fellow Democrat John Edwards, a 2008 White House contender.
It was a double slap to the Republican president, marking the second prize to a leading Democratic critic during Bush’s administration.
The 2002 prize went to former President Jimmy Carter, which the Nobel committee head at the time said was a signal of disapproval over Bush’s preparations for the invasion of Iraq.
For Gore -- who won the popular vote for president nationwide but lost a crucial Florida vote recount battle and thus the election to Bush -- the Nobel Peace Prize brought a measure of vindication.
After the 2000 election, he remade himself as a tireless environmental campaigner, winning an Oscar in 2007 for his documentary film "An Inconvenient Truth."
Gore is now being treated like a rock star by Democratic supporters who want him to jump into the 2008 presidential race to claim the office they believe he was unfairly denied.
While Gore has grown in international stature since his narrow election loss, Bush has seen his credibility damaged at home and abroad by the Iraq war and other foreign policy woes.
He is struggling to stave off lame-duck status and stay relevant while increasingly hemmed in by a hostile Democratic majority in Congress. His inner circle is steadily eroding with almost weekly departures of key aides and advisers.
And the president’s public approval rating, which soared to 90 percent after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, has sunk close to historic lows, with some polls putting it below 30 percent.
Around the world, Bush has won few friends with his stance on Gore’s signature issue -- climate change.
At a White House-convened summit last month, some of the world’s biggest greenhouse polluters called Bush "isolated" and questioned his leadership on the problem of global warming.
Bush has rejected the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that sets limits on industrial nations’ greenhouse gas emissions, and instead favors voluntary targets to curb emissions.
His acknowledgment of a problem highlighted a shift from his previous questioning of the science linking human activity to rising global temperatures.
But despite his concessions on global warming, Bush has continued to face deep scepticism over his efforts to rally support for emissions goals instead of fixed limits.
The White House on Friday praised Gore and the U.N. climate panel for winning what many consider the world’s most prestigious honor, and Nobel Committee chairman Ole Danbolt Mjoes insisted the award "is never criticism of anyone."
But Gore has been a frequent critic of Bush’s environmental policy, urging him last month to follow the example set by the late Republican President Ronald Reagan in supporting efforts to protect the ozone layer by showing leadership in the fight against global warming.
Increasing international recognition of the threat of climate change helped make Gore the betting choice to win the Nobel Peace Prize.
Bush had been considered by betting services to be the definitive longshot -- at more than 100 to 1.