Erik Solheim, the former Norwegian government minister and leader of the Socialist Left party (SV), has admitted to making mistakes in how he tried to save the climate while traveling business class. Newspaper Aftenposten reported late Tuesday afternoon that the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has now chose to resign, after spending around half-a-million U.S. dollars on travel during his first 22 months on the job.
Erik Solheim has also been accused of being dictatorial and misusing United Nations resources, something which has forced him to variously pay back some of the money.
Guterres said he is grateful for Solheim’s service and recognises that he has been a leading voice in drawing the world’s attention to critical environmental challenges.
Solheim’s deputy, Joyce Msuya of Tanzania, will be appointed as the acting chief of the UNEP while the secretary-general tries to find a successor to Solheim, the spokesman said.
In a report, The New York Times said the audit of official travel undertaken by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services cited “uneconomical routing of flight itineraries, opting for more expensive airlines, implementation of teleworking arrangements that were outside the existing policy on flexible working arrangements”.
The Guardian had also revealed that Solheim had to recuse himself in September from professional dealings with his own wife and a Norwegian company that employed her shortly after it signed a deal with Unep in April. Some countries were said to have held back funding from the body because they were unhappy with his conduct, risking undermining its finances.
Published reports said Solheim was criticized for his extensive travels and a management style that prompted a few Scandinavian and other countries to withhold contributions to donor-funded UNEP until the criticism was answered.
Another concern to staff was the $500,000 sponsorship Solheim agreed to give the Volvo Ocean Race, despite it not being mentioned on the VOR sponsors’ web page or announced by Unep.
United Nations environment chief Erik Solheim has resigned following widespread criticism of his excessive expenses on official global travel. “Doing things differently is never easy and I will depart knowing I never spared a moment in my effort to implement this vision and leave UN Environment more capable and more impactful”.
When asked by OIOS auditors to account for the 76 days spent in Oslo (Norway) and Paris (France), Erik Solheim email: “We can not accept this question on holiday vs job … we are not any longer living in the industrial age and they must stop treating me as if I am a 07 to 16 factory worker … the other side of this coin is that they must stop asking this stupid question”. The resignation will be effective on November 22. He emailed staff on Monday: “We agreed on and committed to a set of principles [to] guide the way we work and interact with each other”.