Gore shares the prize with the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
"I am deeply honored to receive the Nobel Peace Prize," Gore said in an e-mailed statement. "We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity."
The Nobel committee in Oslo, Norway, announced the news at 11 a.m. local time – 5 a.m. on the East Coast – and praised Gore as being "one of the world's leading environmentalist politicians."
"He is probably the single individual who has done most to create greater worldwide understanding of the measures that need to be adopted," said Ole Danbolt Mjoes, chairman of the Nobel committee.
As a Nobel laureate, Gore receives a gold medal, a diploma and splits 10 million Swedish kronor – about $1.7 million – with the IPCC.
Gore, 59, served as Bill Clinton's vice president for eight years and narrowly lost the 2000 presidential election to George W. Bush. Since leaving elected office, Gore has relentlessly shined a spotlight on the issue of global warming.
His 2006 film An Inconvenient Truth, about the climate crisis, won the Academy Award for best documentary. Gore is also an recent Emmy winner through his Current TV network.
An Important IssueThe IPCC, which draws on the work of 2,000 scientists, said the panel was surprised that it had been chosen to share the award with Gore.
"We would have been happy even if he had received it alone because it is a recognition of the importance of this issue," spokeswoman Carola Traverso Saibante said, The Associated Press reported.
Some 181 individuals or organizations were known to have been nominated for the Peace Prize this year. (Their identities are kept secret.) But with global warming commanding much attention this year, Gore had been tipped as a front-runner for the award.
There has also been speculation that winning the Nobel Prize could be a springboard for Gore to enter the 2008 U.S. presidential race. Gore has declined to comment on that notion.
Over the years, the Nobel committee has broadened the scope of the Peace Prize from traditional conflict prevention and resolution to include humanitarian and human-rights work. An environmental leader, Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai, was also honored in 2002.
Henry Dunant, the founder of the Red Cross, shared the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 with Frédéric Passy, a leading international pacifist.