Erik Solheim

Erik Solheim (born 18 January 1955) is a Norwegian diplomat and former politician. He served in the Norwegian government from 2005 to 2012 as Minister of International Development and Minister of the Environment, and as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme from 2016 to 2018.[1] Solheim is a member of the Green Party.

Erik Solheim
Erik Solheim.jpg
Executive Director of United Nations Environment Programme-UNEP
In office
June 2016 – November 2018
Preceded byAchim Steiner
Succeeded byJoyce Msuya
Minister of International Development
In office
17 October 2005 – 23 March 2012
MonarchHarald V
Prime MinisterJens Stoltenberg
Preceded byHilde Frafjord Johnson
Succeeded byHeikki Holmås
Minister of the Environment
In office
18 October 2007 – 23 March 2012
Prime MinisterJens Stoltenberg
Preceded byHelen Bjørnøy
Succeeded byBård Vegard Solhjell
Member of the Norwegian Parliament
In office
1 October 1989 – 30 September 2001
Leader of the Socialist Left Party
In office
5 April 1987 – 3 May 1997
Preceded byTheo Koritzinsky
Succeeded byKristin Halvorsen
Secretary of the Socialist Left Party
In office
Preceded byLiss Schanche
Succeeded byHilde Vogt
Personal details
Born (1955-01-18) 18 January 1955 (age 65)
Oslo, Norway
Political partyGreen Party
Other political
Socialist Left Party (until 2019)
ResidenceOslo, Norway
Alma materUniversity of Oslo

Solheim was formerly a politician for the Socialist Left Party (SV); he led its youth branch, the Socialist Youth, from 1977 to 1981, was party secretary from 1981 to 1985, and served as a member of the Parliament of Norway from 1989 to 2001. He was leader of the Socialist Left Party from 1987 to 1997. During Solheim's tenure as party leader the party moved closer to the centre and abandoned many former hard-left stances. Within the party, Solheim was considered part of the right wing, and his reforms made him strongly unpopular on the left wing of his own party.

In 2000 Solheim left Norwegian politics to take up an appointment as a special adviser in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs working as a participant in the Norwegian delegation that unsuccessfully attempted to resolve the Sri Lankan Civil War before the outbreak of Eelam War IV. Solheim returned to Norwegian politics in 2005 when he was appointed Minister of International Development. In 2007 he additionally became the Minister of the Environment, and he held both offices until 2012.

After leaving the government in 2012, he returned to his previous position as a special adviser in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and from 2013 to 2016 Solheim was Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee in Paris. He was Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme from 2016 to 2018. In November 2018 he stepped down following an internal UN audit that criticized his frequent international travel and some internal rule breaking.[2]

Since he left the government, Solheim sometimes made critical remarks about the Socialist Left Party.[3] Solheim later expressed his support for the centrist Green Party and was active as a strategic adviser for the party during the 2015 elections.[3][4] He became a member of the Green Party in 2019.[5]


Born in Oslo, Solheim attended high school at Oslo Cathedral School and, after serving conscription for the Norwegian Air Force in Bodø (1974–75), graduated from the University of Oslo in 1980 with a cand.mag. degree after studying history, sociology and political science.[6] After 11 years in parliament he worked for five years for the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs before being appointed Minister.

Norwegian politicsEdit

Solheim was the leader of Socialist Youth 1977–1980 and party secretary of the Socialist Left Party 1981–1985. In 1987, he became leader of the Socialist Left Party and rose quickly to become a popular figure in Norwegian politics. In the 1989 election he was elected to Parliament from Sør-Trøndelag in what was to then SVs best election, but was the following two elections (in 1993 and 1997 Solheim was elected from Oslo).[7] He was controversial within his own party because he was considered to be too right-wing. In 1997, after ten years as party leader, he stepped down and was succeeded by Kristin Halvorsen. Through the 1990s Solheim became one of the most prominent figures in Norwegian politics, and lead his party through a period of rising popularity. In later years he has received criticism from some older party colleagues for moderating his views on the European Union and becoming a supporter of Norway's membership in NATO.

Solheim was appointed Minister of International Development on 17 October 2005 as part of Stoltenberg's Second Cabinet, the first time Solheim's party sat in the Cabinet. On 18 October 2007, he was also appointed Minister of the Environment.[7] He held both posts until 23 March 2012, when he was—against his own wish—moved by newly appointed party leader Audun Lysbakken.[8]

International peace makerEdit

2002 Truce in Sri LankaEdit

From the spring of 2000 he was granted a leave of absence from parliament to serve as special advisor to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Sri Lanka. He went on to become one of the most recognizable figures in the peace negotiations between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers.

Solheim helped negotiate a truce in 2002.[9] On 17 October 2005, he continued his engagement with international affairs when he was appointed Minister of International Development in the cabinet of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. In this position, he was able to continue his work on the Sri Lanka issue.

Post 2006 activitiesEdit

Solheim met with the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister and U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns on 23 January 2006.

After meeting with the officials, Solheim told journalists in Colombo, "Everyone is worried with the present deteriorating security situation. It is hard to see the present situation continuing indefinitely. Sri Lanka is at a crossroads."

After meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse, Undersecretary Burns expressed hope that "the LTTE understands that it will have no relations with my country, and for that matter any effective relations with any country in the world, on the barrel of the gun."[9]

President Rajapakse and Solheim met the day after. Solheim then went north and met with Tamil Tiger rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran and rebel negotiator Anton Balasingham.[9] Dumeetha Luthra of BBC News said Solheim's visit was seen as crucial to saving the truce.[9]

2006 peace talksEdit

Solheim announced on 12 September 2006 that the Government of Sri Lanka and the Tamil Tigers had agreed to hold "unconditional peace talks" in October in Oslo.[10]

Solheim told BBC News officials that "Both parties have expressed willingness to come back to the table. We expect the violence will be stopped. The government has throughout its existence for 10 months repeatedly told us that they are ready for talks without any preconditions and the LTTE has today confirmed that they are ready for talks without any preconditions."

Government reactionEdit

Keheliya Rambukwella, a spokesman for the Sri Lankan government, acknowledged that the government was ready for talks, "but we did not agree on Oslo for unconditional peace talks." Officials from the European Union, Japan, Norway and the United States, meeting in Brussels to discuss the conflict, released a statement in support of the peace talks.[11]

Government spokesman Rambukwella denied that the government agreed to unconditional negotiations, saying, "We will put forward our conditions." Rambukwella criticized the Norwegian government for announcing the talks without consulting the Sri Lankan government: "The government has not been consulted on any future discussions. Norway, or anybody, can't announce dates and venues. We will take it up very seriously. We are a sovereign state. They are only facilitators. We have not delegated any of our powers to them."[12]

The Sri Lankan Government's chief negotiator, Nimal Siripala De Silva, filed an official complaint about Solheim's announcement to the press to Norwegian Ambassador Hans Brattskar when they met, along with Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary S. Palihakkara and Norwegian Embassy spokesman Eric Nurnberg, at the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Minister De Silva said he hoped to discuss the "future role of the international community in the Sri Lankan Peace Process and the future course of action on the peace front" at this meeting.[13] He also expressed a desire for a "sincere commitment to the process from the LTTE leader Prabakaran" to reporters.[14]


His attempts of peacemaking were in the end unsuccessful, with the Asian Tribune concluding that "his handling relationship with Sri Lanka" was an "utter failure". In 2010, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jonas Gahr Støre thus instead took control over the bilateral relations between Sri Lanka and Norway, with Eva Kristin Hansen stating that "Norway will ensure that Norway-Sri Lanka relations are brought back to the way they were."[15] In January 2011 Erik Solheim offered to play the role of a "dialogue partner" between the Sri Lankan government and communities living in exile, possibly a reference to the Tamil Diaspora or the LTTE supporters who have formed a government in exile.[16]

In an interview with journalists Easwaran Rutnam and Jamila Najmuddin, the Norwegian Minister of Environment, who has been often labelled in Sri Lanka as being pro-LTTE, said that the recent Wikileaks reports on him proved that he was not biased towards one party. Solheim also rejected the idea of a separate State in Sri Lanka and urged the Tamil Diaspora to seek dialogue and work through democratic means to achieve their goals. The LTTE had recently created a government in exile, also known as the Transnational government of Tamil Ealam which demands for a separate State and obtained the support of the Tamil Diaspora especially those living in Canada.


Sri Lanka exchange of giftsEdit

In an interview with Sri Lanka's Daily News, Colonel Karuna, a former LTTE regional commander and a current member of the Sri Lankan parliament, levelled claims of Norwegian support for the LTTE and the existence of an exchange of goods, including gifts such as TVs and large sums of money existed between Solheim and LTTE leadership.[17][18][19] Solheim has denied the allegations made against him and has complained that these accusations are the fabrications of the media.[18] The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that they are surprised about the "obvious lies about Mr. Solheim".[20] also stating that there is "no basis in reality" for the accusations. In an open letter to the editor of the Sunday Times newspaper, in reply to an article published on 15 April 2007, the Norwegian Ambassador to Sri Lanka, Hans Brattskar, also "categorically refuted allegations made by a Norwegian national, who happened to be a convicted murderer and his organization Norwegians Against Terrorism, to the effect that Norway has funded terrorism." also stating that "Unfortunately, similar allegations based on the very same source, have lately also been published and broadcast by other parts of the Sri Lankan media."[21] "Norwegians Against Terrorism" is a one-man band led by convicted murderer Falk Rune Rovik.[22][23] Rovik also posted a video of LTTE leadership visiting the Norwegian Special Forces Training Camp in Rena, which showed the LTTE receiving instruction on their weapons, tactics and military strategies.[24] The content or authenticity of this video was never refuted by Solheim or the Norwegian government.

In May 2011, Aftenposten stated that Norwegian Embassy personnel in Colombo had secretly helped LTTE personnel to leave Sri Lanka. This practice was defended by Erik Solheim, who stated that Norway had a long tradition of helping people at risk.[25]

Commercial and Chinese promotionEdit

Before being asked to resign as head of UNEP, Solheim was criticized for his promotion of a vast and environmentally controversial Chinese infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, as well as Chinese investments in Africa. Solheim defended himself against accusations of nepotism and conflict of interest.[26] Deutsche Welle editorialized that "his actions paint a questionable picture of a corrupt politician using a position of privilege to his own advantage."[27]

Work in intergovernmental organisationsEdit


In January 2013, Erik Solheim was appointed head of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Development Assistance Committee (DAC).[28] He took over from Brian Atwood who stepped down in December 2012. The DAC is an international forum for bilateral providers of development co-operation. It aims to promote development co-operation in order to contribute to sustainable development. Solheim focussed on reform of official development assistance, providing more support to the least developed countries. He has also sought to blend development assistance with private investment and better taxation systems in recipient countries.[29]


In May 2016, Solheim was appointed Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme.[30] He succeeded Achim Steiner in that post in June 2016.

A 2018 internal audit by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) questioned Solheim's ability to lead the UNEP, particularly in light of his "extensive travel patterns" and general management style.[31][32] As a consequence, the governments of Denmark, Sweden, Japan, Belgium and the Netherlands halted their funding to UNEP, leaving the organisation facing a major funding crisis.[33] On 20 November 2018, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres accepted Solheim’s resignation, after asking him to step down.[34]

Other activitiesEdit


  1. ^ "Erik Solheim får toppjobb i FN | ABC Nyheter". 2 May 2016. Retrieved 27 June 2017.
  2. ^ Carrington, Damian (20 November 2018). "UN environment chief resigns after frequent flying revelations". the Guardian. Retrieved 2 December 2018.
  3. ^ a b "Solheim vil ikke svare på om han har forlatt SV".
  4. ^ "Erik Solheim snakker ikke lenger med SV - Oslo".
  5. ^ Erik Solheim: – Norge trenger et grønt folkeparti
  6. ^ Blom, Marianne Granheim Trøyflat, Ketil. "Uforlikt med AKP".
  7. ^ a b "Solheim, Erik (1955- )" (in Norwegian). Parliament of Norway. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
  8. ^ "- Solheim ut av regjeringen". Adresseavisen (in Norwegian). Norwegian News Agency. 21 March 2012. Archived from the original on 23 March 2012. Retrieved 23 March 2012.
  9. ^ a b c d Envoy issues Sri Lanka peace call BBC News
  10. ^ Sri Lanka, Tamil Tigers agree to hold peace talks Todayonline[dead link]
  11. ^ Sri Lankan foes 'to talk peace' BBC News
  12. ^ Sri Lanka denies 'unconditional' talks with Tigers TamilNet
  13. ^ Co-Chairs announcement: Government complains Archived 30 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine Daily News
  14. ^ Sri Lankan gov't calls for sincere rebel commitment for peace People's Daily Online
  15. ^ "Norway-Sri Lanka relations normalized: Erik Solheim sidelined - Asian Tribune".
  16. ^ [1] Archived 29 January 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  17. ^ "Solheim in the pay of Tigers: his house in Norway bought with Tiger money - Col. Karuna - Asian Tribune".
  18. ^ a b "Solheim calls Karuna allegations 'complete lies'". 28 September 2007. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007.
  19. ^ "Col Karuna hits back with more details on Erik Solheim’s dealings with Prabhakaran and Anton Balasingham - Asian Tribune".
  20. ^ [2] Archived 14 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ [3] Archived 18 March 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Norway dismisses allegations, 18 April 2007
  23. ^ Ex-convict causing trouble, Aftenposten 19 April 2007 Archived 11 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine
  24. ^ "LankaWeb – Eric Solheim says he called the Tamil Tigers to surrender. What!".
  25. ^ "Norway secretly helped LTTE cadres".
  26. ^ Damian Carrington (27 September 2018). "Under-fire UN environment chief forced back to HQ". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 December 2018. “In relation to any notion of nepotism, I wish to clarify that my spouse was recruited to REV Ocean through an open, transparent and competitive process,” said Solheim
  27. ^ Sonya Angelica Diehn (21 November 2018). "Opinion: Beyond Erik Solheim's climate hypocrisy". Deutsche Welle. Retrieved 5 December 2018. Solheim was also criticized for promoting a massive Chinese infrastructure project despite environmental concerns, and for sponsoring a Volvo race without disclosing it [...] But in sum, his actions paint a questionable picture of a corrupt politician using a position of privilege to his own advantage.
  28. ^ AS, TV 2. "Erik Solheim får toppjobb i Paris".
  29. ^ "DAC Chair: Erik Solheim". OECD. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  30. ^ "Secretary-General Announces Intention to Appoint Erik Solheim of Norway as Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme". UNEP news centre. UNEP. 3 May 2016. Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  31. ^ Carrington, Damian (21 September 2018). "UN environment chief criticised by UN over frequent flying". the Guardian. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  32. ^ Damian Carrington (27 September 2018), Under-fire UN environment chief forced back to HQ The Guardian.
  33. ^ Damian Carrington (25 September 2018), Nations halt funding to UN environment programme as outcry over chief grows The Guardian.
  34. ^ Michelle Nichols (20 November 2018), U.N. environment chief quits over travel expense report Reuters.
  35. ^ UN Environment Leader Erik Solheim Joins the EAT Advisory Board EAT Foundation (EAT), press release of 19 May 2017.
  36. ^ Policy Advisory Board Reconsidering European Contributions to Global Justice (GLOBUS).
  37. ^ Advisory Board The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB).
  38. ^ Sustainability and Legacy Commission International Olympic Committee (IOC).
Political offices
Preceded by
Hilde Frafjord Johnson
Norwegian Minister of International Development
2005 - 2012
Succeeded by
Heikki Holmås
Preceded by
Helen Bjørnøy
Norwegian Minister of the Environment
2007 - 2012
Succeeded by
Bård Vegar Solhjell
Party political offices
Preceded by
Liss Schanche
Party Secretary of the Socialist Left Party
Succeeded by
Hilde Vogt
Preceded by
Theo Koritzinsky
Party Leader of the Socialist Left Party
Succeeded by
Kristin Halvorsen