UN environment chief resigns after damning travel expenses audit

Erik Solheim said he hopes his decision to step down "proves to be in the best interest" of the UN agency. An audit found he spent nearly half a million dollars on travel, considered a key driver of CO2 emissions.

UN environment chief Erik Solheim on Tuesday resigned after the publication of a damning audit report of his travel expenses.

Nature and Environment | 06.06.2018

The report, conducted by the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services, found that Solheim spent nearly $500,000 (€440,000) on travel. It also cited unjustified expenses during his trips from May 2016 to March 2018.

His travels put him away from the UN Environment Program's (UNEP) headquarters in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, for 529 days out of the 668 days that were audited. Critics denounced the former Norwegian environment minister's costly travels at a time when the UN is facing severe budget shortfalls.

Travel has also been dubbed a key contributor to climate change, with environmental organizations saying it accounts for at least 10 percent of all global carbon dioxide emissions annually. Air travel is particularly problematic.

Nature and Environment | 08.03.2018

Read more: 'Serve less meat and use renewable jet fuel'

'Stepping down'

In a statement, Solheim attempted to deflect criticism, saying he remains committed to UNEP's mission.

"For this reason, after deep reflection and in close consultation with the secretary-general, I am stepping down," Solheim said in a statement. "It is my most sincere hope that this proves to be in the best interest of UN Environment and the wider UN."

Solheim is to be temporarily replaced by UNEP Deputy Director Joyce Msuya while UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres seeks an official replacement. Solheim's departure comes ahead of pivotal talks on implementing the Paris climate accord slated for December in Poland.

Read more: To fly or not to fly? The environmental cost of air travel

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ls/msh (AFP, Reuters)

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