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UN’s Environment chief Erik Solheim resigns over frequent travelling

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The Head of UN Environment Erik Solheim has resigned because of his frequent global travels that cost the agency almost $500,000 (Sh50,000,000) in just 22 months.

Some countries were unhappy with his trips and withheld millions of dollars in funding.

According to an internal audit report by the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services, the environment chief was away from office 80 per cent of the time, posing a reputation risk to the agency.

In a statement, Solheim said he has throughout his tenure committed himself to doing what he believes to be in the best interest of UN Environment and its mission.

He, nevertheless, said he had decided to step down with effect from November 22, after deep reflection and in close consultation with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

“It is my most sincere hope that this proves to be in the best interest of UN Environment and the wider UN. Despite the challenges this moment brings, I also hope each of you will take pride in what we have achieved together,” Solheim said.

“With a heavy heart, I informed the Secretary General of my decision. He indicated that he will be shortly appointing an officer in charge of the organisation,” he added.

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Solheim has been in office for the past two and a half years where under his leadership, several countries ratified key treaties aimed at protecting the environment.

These include India’s decision to phase out single-use plastics, signing of an agreement by 12 countries guaranteeing environmental rights in Latin America and the Caribbean and the ratification of the Kigali Amendment by several countries to bring about a global phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pump equipment and are thousands of times more harmful to the climate than CO2.

“I wanted UN Environment to be a lead agency for reform, even if it raised some questions. 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,” Solheim said.

He said despite his departure, he will remain a committed friend of UN Environment and his former colleagues at the agency.

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