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New UN Environment Head lays out his vision

Erik Solheim has spelled out his ideas and priorities as the new UN Environment Executive Director during his first official visit to Geneva on, 30 August.


Cancer is responsible for seven million premature deaths each year – about the same number as those that die from air pollution, Mr Solheim pointed out. Such examples help bring home the urgency of fighting environmental issues – an essential part of empowering people to drive change, he believes.


UN Environment must work more closely with the private sector, work to end environmental degradation as a driver of war and make a real and practical difference to people’s lives on the ground, he told journalists and Geneva ambassadors. The new Executive Director’s policy priorities will meanwhile be biodiversity, oceans, sustainable cities, finance, climate and migration.


The organisation can fulfil its mission by not only spurring positive change in the private sector, but also by praising it when it takes place, Mr Solheim believes - giving the example of French oil firm Total ruling out Arctic oil drilling, due to climate change.


“At the very minimum we will be ready to go into partnerships with companies who either behave well or are ready to change,” he told journalists, underlining that “we should not see working with companies as different to working with civil society or governments”.


“Environmental degradation is a strong amplifier for wars,” Mr Solheim also noted during an executive briefing held for country missions later that day, signalling his will to break the link between land degradation and war. There will always be a link between these?


Furthermore, “I will do my best to ensure that everything we do for the environment is with the aim of reducing poverty,” Mr Solheim pledged in Geneva – a city described by the new UN Environment Head as being a “second hub” for the organisation’s work.


A Norwegian national, Mr Solheim has previously held the combined portfolio of Minister for International Development and of the Environment for his country and worked as a negotiator during the peace process in Sri Lanka between 1998 and 2005. He most recently was Chair of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.


Mr Solheim was elected on a four-year term as head of UN Environment on 13 May 2016 by the UN General Assembly. He succeeds Achim Steiner, who led the organisation from 2006.


To view a recording of Mr Solheim’s briefing with the press click here . For more details please write to

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