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OSLO (Reuters) - Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore won praise on Thursday from a man with the power to change lives -- the head of the Nobel Peace Prize committee -- after a speech urging more action to fight global warming.
"A very important message", Ole Danbolt Mjoes told Reuters after hearing Gore, a nominee for the prestigious award, say the planet was under threat from a build-up of greenhouse gases caused mainly by burning fossil fuels.
Mjoes, who joined in a minute-long standing ovation for Gore, said he was attending as a private citizen and not sizing up a candidate on behalf of the secretive five-member committee. He sat near the back in an audience of about 400.
Some experts tip Gore as among the favorites to win what many view as the world's top accolade. His successes this year include a double Oscar for his documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" about global warming.
"I have Gore as a clear favorite," said Stein Toennesson, head of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo. "I think the committee will be unable to resist the temptation to add their voice" to concerns about global warming, he said.
Objections include that former U.S. President Jimmy Carter won only in 2002 and it may be too soon for another U.S. Democrat to win. The 2007 prize winner will be announced in October.
A Nobel for Gore would be a slap in the face for Republican President George W. Bush, who beat Gore to the presidency in 2000 and is accused by Gore of failing to do enough to slow climate change. Gore says he has no plans for a new presidential bid in 2008 but has not ruled it out.
Toennesson noted the world's environment ministers will be meeting in December in Bali, Indonesia, to try to launch negotiations on a new climate treaty. The meeting will coincide with the handover of the peace prize in Oslo on December 10.
Gore's views are popular in Norway -- apart from Mjoes, the audience for Thursday evening's speech included Queen Sonja, Crown Prince Haakon and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere.
Earlier, Mjoes told reporters climate change was one of the most pressing problems facing humanity. "Every citizen...has to involve themselves in how to save the world," he said.
The committee widened its concept of peace to include environmental protection with the 2004 prize to Kenya's Wangari Maathai for campaigning to plant millions of trees across Africa.
Toennessen said he did not believe Gore, in Norway to promote a book in his third visit to the Nordic nation in a year, was overtly campaigning for the award. Lobbying is widely frowned upon.
Still, many past winners have visited Norway before winning in what seems more than pure chance -- including 2006 laureate Mohammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist, Maathai and the 2003 winner, Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi.