What is ICAN and how did it win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

What is ICAN and how did it win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

What is ICAN and how did it win this year's Nobel Peace Prize?

Updated 7 October 2017, 15:45 AEDT

It is an international anti-nuclear weapons group which launched in Melbourne a decade ago.

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) has taken out one of the world's most prestigious awards, the 2017 Nobel Prize for Peace.

So how did a campaign from Melbourne make its way to the international stage?

Key points:

  • Group honoured for "ground-breaking efforts" to achieve nuclear ban treaty
  • ICAN also awarded for drawing "attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences" of nuclear weapons
  • 215 individuals and 103 organisations were nominated for the prize

So what is ICAN?

ICAN describes itself as a coalition of non-governmental organisations in 100 countries promoting adherence to and implementation of the United Nations nuclear weapon ban treaty.

That global agreement was adopted by 122 countries — but not by Australia — in New York on July 7 this year.

It has advocated at the United Nations and in parliaments around the world, bringing the stories of those impacted by nuclear testing and survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings to a world stage.

How did it form?

ICAN set up its first office in Melbourne, with disarmament campaigner Felicity Hill as the coordinator.

It officially launched in Vienna, Austria in April 2007 during the Non-Proliferation Treaty preparatory committee meeting.

ICAN campaign director Tim Wright said it was inspired by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which had played a major role in the negotiation of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Convention, also known as the Ottawa treaty.

That treaty prohibits the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel land mines.

"We launched the campaign because nuclear disarmament had dropped off the global political agenda," Mr Wright said.

"Many governments had become complacent about the threat of nuclear war, and the anti-nuclear movement was languishing.

"We were inspired by the tremendous success of the campaign to ban landmines in the 1990s.

"We wanted to emulate that success, so we worked to bring together a diverse range of organisations with the specific goal of achieving a treaty to prohibit nuclear weapons."

It's also had some pretty big supporters

The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying: "I can imagine a world without nuclear weapons, and I support ICAN".

ICAN also has the support of artist Yoko Ono and actors Martin Sheen and Michael Douglas.

Douglas joined ICAN's Beatrice Fihn in May last year to highlight the role that civil society plays in the work to ban nuclear weapons.

How did ICAN win a Nobel Peace Prize?

There were more than 300 nominations for the award, and it can recognise both accomplishments and intentions.

Nobel committee chairwoman Berit Reiss-Andersen said ICAN "has been a driving force in prevailing upon the world's nations to pledge to cooperate … in efforts to stigmatise, prohibit and eliminate nuclear weapons."

She said that while similar bans had been reached on chemical and biological weapons, land mines and cluster munitions, nuclear weapons had so far avoided a similar international ban despite being more destructive .

"The organisation is receiving the award for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons, and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition on such weapons," Ms Reiss-Anderson said.

While some asked whether a prize should be awarded for symbolism, since no international measures against nuclear weapons with all countries had been reached, Ms Reiss-Andersen said: "What will not have an impact is being passive."

"We live in a world where the risk of nuclear weapons being used is greater than it has been for a long time.

"Some states are modernising their nuclear arsenals and there is a real danger that more countries will try to procure nuclear weapons, as exemplified by North Korea.

"Nuclear weapons pose a constant threat to humanity and to life on Earth."

The group still has more work to do

Back in July, 122 nations adopted the UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

But nuclear-armed countries like the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France stayed out of the talks.

Australia also decided to not to participate, leading then Greens Senator Scott Ludlam questioning whether Australian diplomats acted like "weasels" during the nuclear disarmament negotiations.

Mr Wright said the Nobel Peace Prize was "an extraordinary honour" and came as a "huge surprise".

"It's a tribute to the hard work of many thousands of people globally who have devoted their lives to the cause of eliminating nuclear weapons," he said.

But, he said recent explicit threats to use nuclear weapons meant its work wasn't over.

"It's a return to the Cold War, and it's not difficult to see how the tensions between North Korea and the United States could lead to catastrophe," he said.

"We're calling on all countries to sign the new UN treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons, which offers a powerful alternative to a world in which threats of mass destruction are allowed to prevail.

"We will work in coming months to persuade more nations to sign this landmark treaty.

"One of our priorities will be to bring the Australian government on board.

"So far, it has opposed the treaty because it considers US nuclear weapons to be essential for our security. This position is immoral and dangerous."