The new head of the United Nations environment agency, Erik Solheim, says that he had gained valuable lessons, including the importance of dialogue and compromise while serving as a negotiator of the peace process in Sri Lanka.
“In my view you should always try to talk even with political leaders as well as guerrilla leaders or terrorists leaders who do not seem to be amendable to compromise – let’s try talking,” he told reporters in Geneva.
Mr. Solheim highlighted how his past experience would help inform him in his new role.
He was elected to the UNEP position for a four-year term by the General Assembly on 13 May this year, succeeding Achim Steiner of Germany, who led the agency for the past 10 years.
From 2000 to 2005, Solheim was the Chief Negotiator for the peace process between the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
In his remarks, Solheim laid out key issues facing the international community on environmental issues, including pollution as well as the linkages among the environment, wars and conflicts, and migration.
“The World Health Organisation has estimated that seven million people on the planet are dying from pollution – that is more or less the same number of people dying from cancer,” the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), Erik Solheim,.
The former Norwegian politician and diplomat said it is necessary to reach out to more people and change narratives to get closer to people’s hearts. As a first step, he is considering changing the organisation’s name from “UNEP” to “UN Environment.”
Solheim replaced UNEP’s outgoing Executive Director Achim Steiner, who steps down in June after a decade at the helm of the Nairobi, Kenya-based organisation.
Solheim was the Chair of the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), having held the post since 2013. Previously he served as Norway’s Minister for the Environment and International Development between 2007 and 2012, and Minister for International Development between 2005 and 2007.