Nigel Purvis was called a genius and was widely trusted when Norwegian aid money was allocated to save the rainforest and solve climate issues.

Investigative report:

Collaboration ended in a multimillion dollar dispute

Nigel Purvis was called a genius and was widely trusted when Norwegian aid money was allocated to save the rainforest and solve climate issues. Millions of kroner later, a red warning triangle appears in Norad’s computer system next to the name of the foundation he established.

Publisert Oppdatert

Just over four years after Norad initiated a collaboration with the US climate foundation, Climate Advisers Trust (CAT), all is not well between the previous partners.

As a strategic collaboration partner during a ten-year period, his company Climate Advisers Inc and CAT, the foundation established by Purvis in 2017, have between them received at least NOK 177 million from Norway’s aid budget.

In some periods the star consultant received well over NOK 30,000 per day from the Norwegian aid budget. Norad believes he came to occupy more than one position around the table without informing them.

The facts of the case:

  • Between 2019 and 2020, the US foundation Climate Advisers Trust (CAT) received NOK 70 million to contribute to the reduction of deforestation in low-income countries.
  • The foundation bought services for more than NOK 20 million from companies owned by its CEO. Norad does not believe they were informed about the CEO’s ownership of one of the firms. Norad does not know how much of the grant was used for profit and salaries; they have not received the accounts from the companies.
  • The founder and CEO of CAT received a salary of around NOK 12 million over three years from the non-profit foundation. He has previously charged a daily fee of over NOK 30,000.
  • Norad believes it is difficult to point to any results from the project.
  • CAT rejects the accusations from Norad; nevertheless they have refunded Norad a total of NOK 1.6 million.
  • The consulting firm Climate Advisers Inc and the CAT foundation have jointly been paid more than NOK 177 million from the Norwegian aid budget.

After taking stock of the last of a series of projects the US climate consultants have been involved in, it is difficult to point to any results either for the rainforests in low-income countries or for the people who live in them.

The costs are rather more conspicuous. Panorama has taken a closer look at the project called ‘Operation Sunlight’, where around 85 per cent of the almost NOK 70 million of aid money from Norad was spent on salaries and the purchase of consultancy services in the United States.

There are accusations of breach of agreement, lack of transparency regarding salaries and profits, invoicing for several thousands of hours with no documentation as to how they were spent, confusing company structures, and purchases worth several millions from ‘closely related’ companies. These are key flashpoints in a process which gradually developed into a heated argument and threats of legal action.

Between 2018 and 2020 Purvis was paid a salary of around NOK 12 million to lead the mainly Norad-funded, non-profit foundation, Climate Advisers Trust.

– This has been a serious matter with clear breaches of the agreement by Climate Advisers Trust. We have learnt a lot and will think very carefully before entering into that type of agreement again, where a commercial company has created a non-profit which is our contracting partner, says Bård Vegar Solhjell, Director General at Norad.

In 2021 Norad stopped all payments to Climate Advisers Trust and demanded a repayment of NOK 1.6 million because of «significant breaches of the agreement».

However, the parent company Climate Advisers Inc (CAI) continued to receive millions of kroner in funding from the Norwegian aid budget – via an agreement paid by the Ministry of Climate and the Environment (KLD).

Stoltenberg’s forest initiative

The idea that Norwegian money could save the world’s rainforests was born in December 2007, when the then Prime Minister, Jens Stoltenberg, launched Norway’s biggest ever international climate initiative. Norway was to spend NOK three billion annually from the aid budget to save the rainforests in low-income countries.

– This can result in big, quick and cheap reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases, said Stoltenberg to the VG newspaper at the time, before presenting Norway’s strategy to the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali only three days later.

During his visit to Brasil in 2008, Norways priminister at the time, Jens Stoltenberg, announced that Norway intended to donate one billion USD to perserving the rain forest in Brasil.

The idea was simple: countries with tropical forests were to be rewarded for not cutting them down. Stoltenberg quickly gained political support for the idea in Norway. Paying for reduced greenhouse gas emissions in rainforest countries with aid money was far cheaper than achieving similar results through emission cuts at home. Norway would be able to present itself as a pioneering country in climate politics without making too much of an effort as far as its own production of oil and gas was concerned. Internationally this was described as «the Norwegian paradox».

Climate Advisers:

The Climate Advisers group consists of:

Climate Advisers Inc (CAI), a consulting firm established in Washington DC in 2008. Owned and led by the lawyer, Nigel Purvis. According to the company website they have 16 employees.

Climate Advisers Trust, a not-for-profit foundation which was established in 2017 by Nigel Purvis. Has its own board of directors.

Climate Advisers Great Britain. Nigel Purvis is on the board.

The three units are legally separate, but share staff and all work with climate-related issues.

One of the architects behind the strategy, and Director of the Rainforest Foundation Norway at the time, was Lars Løvold:

– Climate was very high on the agenda in 2007. We spotted an opportunity, went straight to the politicians, and won through. Our proposal was for six billion annually. They gave us three. That is still a considerable amount, Løvold said to Panorama Nyheter.

In early 2008 a small team within the Ministry of Climate and the Environment was established. The department was given the acronym NICFI – Norway’s International Climate and Forest Initiative.

However, good intentions and NOK three billion were not sufficient to put a stop to deforestation. Obtaining sufficient, binding support from other wealthy countries and powerful international companies proved to be difficult. The NICFI team quickly realised that it was important to create momentum in the work to preserve tropical forests. Particularly in the United States.

And this was where the climate consultant Nigel Purvis and his Washington DC-based Climate Advisers Inc (CAI) appeared on the scene.

A daily rate of more than 30,000 kroner

In 2012, Purvis and his company were hired to give strategic advice to the team working on the forest initiative in the Ministry of Climate and the Environment (KLD).

The American had an impressive network and expertise.

For the Harvard-educated lawyer is not just any old climate consultant. He has a long and impressive CV, and worked on climate issues at a high level in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. He has also been affiliated to the renowned Brookings Institution.

In the same year as the start of the collaboration between KLD and CAI, a colleague wrote the following in a memo to the then Minister of Climate and the Environment, Bård Vegar Solhjell:

«Purvis is one of the brightest minds in American climate policy, and will be able to provide very useful perspectives for the Minister both in terms of US policy and on expanding Norway’s opportunities for influence in the future. Purvis is also central to the group that has helped the Climate and Forest Initiative to develop the strategy for increased international support for the climate and forest case which the Minister has got behind».

For several years, Purvis, funded by Norwegian aid, participated in climate meetings and worked to build influence around the world. Panorama Nyheter has gained access to documents which show that Purvis charged an hourly rate of USD 639 in 2012, as well as in later years. The exchange rate has varied, but this is currently equivalent to a daily rate of more than NOK 30,000.

In 2017 he was paid NOK 4800 per hour from the Norwegian aid budget. That is equivalent to a daily fee of NOK 38,000 for an eight-hour working day.

Even if we take into consideration that this also includes allowances for social costs such as pensions etc., it is unusually expensive in an aid context.

The journal Development Today has on several occasions written about the high fees charged by Climate Advisers Inc. in 2016. At the time, KLD pointed out that the contract CAI had with KLD was won following an open competitive tendering process in accordance with EU regulations.

«Operation Sunlight»

In the spring of 2018 Norad received an application from the recently established foundation, Climate Advisers Trust (CAT). The foundation applied for a grant of more than NOK 100 million for a project which was given the name ‘Operation Sunlight’. The name was not randomly chosen – according to the application, sunlight will contribute to transparency and visibility around investments contributing to deforestation.

CAT was established towards the end of 2017, i.e. just a few months before Norad received the application. The foundation had thus never previously been responsible for a project of that size.

Given the tough competition for Norwegian aid money, it is unusual for Norad to establish a collaboration with brand new foundations. However, this application was not quite like any other.

For the founder and CEO was none other than the star consultant, Nigel Purvis.

So even if Climate Advisers Trust was only recently established, Norad was quite familiar with Purvis and his commercial consulting company, Climate Advisers Inc.

The project for which CAT requested support in 2018 was described by Norad as ambitious. The foundation was looking to develop an online tool giving the public access to updated information about the companies contributing to deforestation.

Through «strategic» use of US legislation, CAT would also, in collaboration with local organisations in tropical forest countries, present cases to the United States prosecution service. The aim was that the US authorities, based on the cases presented to them by CAT, would choose to pursue companies and actors who contributed to deforestation.

- Allowed «back door access to the aid money»

As shown above, Nigel Purvis had for several years prior to 2018 delivered consultancy services to Norway for at least NOK 35 million through his commercial company, Climate Advisers Inc (CAI).

Between 2013 and 2018, CAI also had another type of income from the Norwegian aid budget. The firm was awarded around NOK 50 million in state aid from Norad. The money comes from a pot reserved for the work by civil society to prevent the destruction of rainforests. Such funding is a type of earmarked project support from which the recipient is not allowed to profit.

Norad’s regulatory framework for the programme from which CAI several times was granted funding, states that commercial actors and consultancies cannot apply.

Despite that, the commercial CAI was granted funding – indirectly. One source describes it as giving them «back door access to the money». This is because the US consulting firm applied for funding together with various non-profit organisations. The organisations are named as Norad’s formal agreement partners; however CAI was a «co-applicant», or «partner».

We have been given access to case files which show that CAI played a major role in the design of several of the applications, and that a significant proportion of the funding was used to pay high consultancy fees to Nigel Purvis and his employees.

The fact that a commercial consulting firm with a high salary level received millions of kroner via aid agreements was the cause of a disagreement between Norad and the Ministry of Climate and the Environment, and was also discussed by Development Today.

Norad’s legal department believed that all applications involving Climate Advisers ought to be rejected, because a commercial company was a co-applicant.

However, the Ministry had the last word and the applications were granted. The disagreement between Norad and KLD has previously been discussed by Development Today.

Established a «non-profit»

As a result of this, Climate Advisers had to agree not to take out any earnings from the grants, and from 2016 Norad also demanded a significant reduction of the hourly fee paid to Purvis.

The question is whether Purvis established the non-profit, non-commercial foundation Climate Advisers Trust towards the end of 2017 in order to be able to apply for Norad-support – without having to go via 23 other organisations.

This was confirmed by Purvis to Panorama; however according to him he established his non-profit foundation, CAT, following a signal from Norad that the agency preferred to work through non-profit organisations.

In an email he wrote: «In order to be a good collaboration partner, Climate Advisers offered Norad the opportunity to transfer the services carried out by them as a sub-contractor to a new, non-profit foundation, Climate Advisers Trust».

Purvis claimed that Norad was aware that the foundation was established in order to be able to receive money from them.

«Norad agreed to this, fully aware that CAT largely had been established because Norad wanted a non-commercial mechanism in order to collaborate with Climate Advisers», Purvis writes.

Through their communication departments, Norad and KLD deny having encouraged CAI to establish CAT. However, both Norad and KLD say they made it clear to CAI that their giving grants to a commercial actor involves «challenges».

So, when the application for the project «Operation Sunlight» from the recently established CAT foundation was put on the table in the spring of 2018, it quickly created a headache for Norad.

There is little doubt about CAT’s capability and the quality of their staff. Purvis and many of his colleagues were after all known from the earlier collaboration with the commercial consultants, CAI. Neither was there anything wrong with the objectives in the new application from CAT, which were to reduce deforestation, influence commercial actors who contribute to forest destruction in low-income countries and work towards increased transparency about companies contributing to deforestation. All of that was in accordance with the objectives of the Norwegian forest initiative.

Documents which Panorama has been given access to show that experts in Norad early on believed there to be many weaknesses in the application, and that the organisational structure was problematic:

The ties were too close between the commercial firm and the newly established, non-profit foundation: Nigel Purvis was listed as the founder, CEO and board member of the CAT foundation, and leader and owner of the commercial company, CAI, from whom CAT would purchase services. The company and the foundation shared an office address in Washington DC, and several of the people working in the consulting firm, CAI, also worked for the non-profit foundation, CAT.

  • High fees: Both Norad and KLD noted that the salary level, particularly for Purvis, was way higher than what is usually accepted.
  • Lack of financial strength: CAT did not have the financial robustness normally demanded by the agency, and a grant of potentially up to NOK 75 million would lead to a big increase in income for CAT.
  • Risk of hidden profit: Norad’s legal department also warned that giving a grant to a commercial company entailed a danger of ‘hidden profits’ linked to high salaries, internal invoicing, use of consultants and ‘purchases from a closely linked partner’.

The latter turned out to be very important when the collaboration between Norad and CAT developed into a heated argument.

Disagreement between Norad and KLD

In the documents Panorama has seen, a picture emerges of the forest team in KLD mostly not sharing the concerns voiced by the Norad experts.

The American had for many years been highly regarded in the Ministry, and the confidence in the US consultants was still solid in KLD when the application for «Operation Sunlight» was considered.

At that point, one of the directors of NICFI, the forest initiative within KLD, also had a particularly good knowledge of the consulting firm and its CEO, Nigel Purvis. Four years previously he had actually been employed by Nigel Purvis in CAI.

Read about the case here: Was an employee of Climate Advisers – now the director of Norway’s forest initiative

While experts in Norad communicated their concern that the project was associated with significant risk, the allocation document states that KLD had «given strong oral signals» that the project had high priority and that it needed to urgently get off the ground.

«On this basis Norad is willing to accept the risk associated with the project», according to the document.

Panorama asked for an interview with the leadership of the forest section in KLD, in order to get answers to, among other things, why a number of objections from Norad on several occasions appear to have been brushed aside. The Ministry did not wish to be interviewed, but instead chose to provide us with written answers to our questions:

«Norad has shown that they made sound appraisals both before and after entering into the agreement. KLD and Norad carried out a joint, technical assessment of all the applications received from the various civil society consortia, including the ones that Climate Advisers and Climate Advisers Trust were part of. Norad considered risk factors linked to organisation and administration. Norad did a holistic assessment of the applications before they were granted.»

Director General of Norad, Bård Vegar Solhjell, says that it is not unusual for contrasting factors to be assessed together:

– One consideration might be administrative issues, making absolutely sure everything is in line with the regulations, and so on. And then there is another factor – namely the wish to support a skilful and capable actor who has the potential to achieve excellent results. I believe these are the types of contrasting factors which were balanced against each other here, and it is legitimate for KLD to express a clear opinion to Norad.

Bård Vegar Solhjell, Director General at Norad.

He also states that in cases where Norad believes something not to be reasonable they have a responsibility to say so, but they can still be countermanded by the Ministry.

– Shouldn’t Norad, as a technical agency, have said no to «Operation Sunlight» where weaknesses and high risk were pointed out throughout the whole process up to the agreement?

– I do not wish to make judgements about previous decisions. The choice was made to enter into a project with a higher risk than usual, and I think that is okay in some cases in order to achieve results, says Solhjell.

4 800 undocumented hours

Despite concerns, the agreements between Norad and CAT were signed at the end of May 2019.

Two weeks later, Norad paid NOK 13.6 million to the foundation. Most of the money was to be used for salary costs for the work that had already been done on the project since January that year, and for the next four months.

Then, in August, an allegation was made to the Board of CAT from a previous employee about potential malpractice in time-logging around the Norwegian-funded project.

The Board of Climate Advisers Trust, of which the founder, Nigel Purvis, is also a member, hired an external auditor in order to investigate the allegations. The auditor concluded that there was no substance in the whistleblower’s allegations.

However, Norad’s internal auditors were not convinced. They believed the auditor’s report they had received contained several weaknesses, and began their own investigation.

Here, not far from Dupont Circle in Washington DC, CAT and CAI held office until half a year ago. Many of the same consultants worked for both commercial CAI and the foundation CAT.

Norad soon made some interesting discoveries. The timekeeping records at CAT show, for example, that 4 800 hours with a value of more than NOK 2.3 million were entered into the time tracking system on one and the same day – by the same person.

The hours are equivalent to nearly three Norwegian man-years.

It is not clear who gave the order to enter the extra hours. According to Norad, the hours were divided between the employees without their knowledge. The agency is of the opinion that CAT is unable to document what these hours were used for.

When asked about the timekeeping, Nigel Purvis explained to Panorama that there had been staff changes in CAT in the spring of 2019 and as a result the logging had not been done properly. He emphasised that it was a short-term problem, and that Norad never claimed it had been done deliberately or for the sake of profit. He also writes that «no harm was done to the project and no Norad money was wrongly spent.»

Purchased services from own companies

While the circumstances around the invoicing for the 4 800 undocumented hours were being investigated in the autumn of 2019, Norad stopped the payments to CAT. The agency concluded that there had been «significant breaches of the agreement», and that it was difficult to ascertain how many hours CAT had actually spent on the project.

The internal audit concluded that there was poor control of the timekeeping, but could not document that it was deliberately wrongly recorded.

Norad decided to demand a refund of NOK 260,000.

Grants from Norad:

Climate Advisers Trust (CAT) received NOK 70 million in grants for the project ‘Operation Sunlight’ between 2019 and 2020. The money came from Norad’s grant programme for civil society work to preserve rainforests. Norad administers this programme for the Ministry of Climate and the Environment (KLD) and is responsible for the technical side of the aid. The forest team in KLD are responsible for strategy.

Subsequently, however, the collaboration and payments continued. At the end of 2019 and in the spring of 2020 Norad paid a further NOK 48 million to CAT.

But then, in March 2020, fresh issues cropped up.

A Norad grant manager discovered that Nigel Purvis was listed as the founder and CEO of a company with whom CAT had an agreement about the purchase of consultancy services worth nearly NOK 20 million.

The company in question is Concordian, which was registered in the tax haven of Delaware in early 2018, around the time when CAT applied for funding from Norad for «Operation Sunlight».

Norad believed they were not informed by CAT that Purvis had a financial interest in this firm. If they were not, that would be a clear breach of the agreement with Norad.

Internal audit: Objective likely to be profit

At that stage the alarm bells began ringing loudly in Norad, and in December 2020 the agency hired the auditing firm BDO, to scrutinise how Climate Advisers Trust had spent the Norwegian aid millions.

Four months later they reached a conclusion. BDO pointed to a series of irregularities.

Norad’s internal audit was very critical and had the following view on procurements from Concordian:

«As there were no employees in the company, as the company is relatively recently established and as Concordian was also not the most reasonable alternative, the investigative team questions the realities behind and the validity of the award to Concordian. There are many indications that the award was carried out with the aim of extracting a profit from the services provided. In any case, Norad was not informed that Nigel Purvis was the owner of the company, which is a breach of the terms (…).»

Purvis denies that Concordian was established to profit from the funding to Climate Advisers Trust.

– Norad has never accused me of this, he said to Panorama.

Purvis refers to the fact that it was the Board of Climate Advisers Trust, of which he himself is a member, who made the decision to purchase consultancy services from Concordian LLC, since they had offered the best deal. Purvis says he withdrew from CAT’s procurement process involving CAI and Concordian because he had financial interests in both firms.

This is also confirmed by the BDO report. According to Purvis and the Chairman of the Board at CAT the tendering process was transparent and in accordance with the rules.

Purvis told Panorama that «Concordian was founded by a handful of people, including me. I was not part of the management group at Concordian. I was never employed by Concordian, and I did not supervise the work. I was an investor.»

In addition to the procurements from Concordian, the auditors from BDO believed that CAT had made an overpriced procurement costing a total of USD 800,000 from the Purvis-owned firm CAI. That is equivalent to just under NOK eight million today. Additional costs were estimated at around USD 217,000 or around NOK 2.1 million, which was as much as 53 per cent above the price of the next candidate in the tendering process.

The CAT Chairman rejected this in the dialogue with Norad. Purvis did the same:

«I only know the case from CAT’s information to Norad. It was a transparent tendering process which complied with all the regulations. CAI was the most experienced, competent candidate, and was not more expensive than the second best. Norad has misunderstood both the process and the costs», he writes.

Norad’s internal auditors concluded the following:

«Our investigation has uncovered that the CAT Board on two occasions awarded sizeable contracts to closely linked consulting firms. In addition to his ownership of CAI, the CEO (Editor’s note: Purvis) had established yet another consulting firm without informing Norad. As the agreement involves collaboration with closely related for-profit companies, this enables profit to be made on the hours worked and the service delivery.»

Norad was also critical of the fact that Climate Advisers Trust made sizeable purchases of accounting and financial services without clarifying this with Norad in advance.

According to Norad, costs increased from USD 1 500 per month in 2019 to USD 43,000 per month in 2020. For a period the foundation and CAI had shared the costs of accounting and financial services, but when CAT received funds from Norad there was a sharp increase in the foundation’s share of the costs.

Norad also believes there were continued irregularities with the record-keeping of hours worked in CAT and that private, above market rate loans from Purvis to CAT reinforce the impression of weak internal controls.

The Board of CAT admits that they should have consulted Norad before purchasing financial and accountancy services.

At the same time, CAT denied that private loans above the market rate were granted. They say that Purvis refrained from taking a salary in 2018, and that this was paid retrospectively.

The board also disagrees with Norad’s view that there have been further irregularities with timekeeping. In 2021 they wrote to Norad that CAT had «faithfully followed the procedures», which were improved following the case of the 4 800 undocumented hours in 2019.

Refusal to hand over accounts

Norad’s internal auditors believe there have been several ‘significant breaches’ of the agreement, however they cannot ‘conclude that malpractice was involved’ – i.e. it is not possible to say that this was done deliberately to gain advantages.

Norad’s investigator also wrote the following:

«A lack of transparency around [redacted] financial dispositions has limited the investigation team’s opportunities to check CAT’s claim about unlawful profits from CAT to the commercial stakeholders. The investigation team’s assessment is therefore based on the information which was accessible.»

Norwegian forest initiative:

The support to CAT was part of the Government’s International Climate and Forest Initiative which every year grants up to NOK three billion to the work on reducing greenhouse gases stemming from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD+).

This initiative began in 2008 and the plan is for it to continue until 2030.

The forest initiative was criticised in 2018 in a report from the Office of the Auditor General Norway for, among other issues, unclear results, and lack of control and follow-up of irregularities.

The proportion of the Norwegian aid millions Purvis may have taken out as profit and salaries through the companies CAI and Concordian is difficult to gauge. Concordian was registered in Delaware, a state with a liberal tax regime. Norad has on several occasions requested the accounts of these two companies, without success.

According to Norad this is a clear breach of the agreement. CAT disagrees. Purvis claims it is unusual for donors to request such information from private companies.

– Climate Advisers is a privately owned company and we have never shared financial information with donors. If we had given Norad the information they requested, we would have had to do the same for other donors. We have nothing to hide, this is a matter of principle, he says.

CAT has on several occasions denied that Norad was not informed that Purvis had a financial interest in Concordian.

Purvis emphasises to Panorama that he did not participate in the board discussions regarding CAT’s procurement from Concordian, which is supported by minutes from CAT’s board meetings, as this would have involved a conflict of interest

«What I do know is that Norad approved the procurement and that CAT gave Norad every opportunity to raise any problems or ambiguities or to ask for further information. Norad kept a close eye on this procurement and knew there were possible conflicts of interest. Everything points to them being aware of the ownership situation in Concordian. If they did not, it is Norad’s responsibility and not that of CAT’s or myself», Purvis writes.

He states that the company, Concordian, has been liquidated.

A salary of twelve million

Even if Purvis does not wish to say how much he has earned and taken out as profit from the commercial companies CAI and Concordian, we have a clearer picture of what he earned as CEO of the non-profit CAT foundation.

When the agreement with CAT was signed, it was made clear by Norad that Purvis could earn a maximum of USD 300,000 a year from the Norwegian aid money.

Information delivered by CAT to US authorities and to Norad shows, however, that from 2018 to 2020, Nigel Purvis was paid more than USD 1.2 million from the foundation he established in 2017.

That is equivalent to just under NOK twelve million today.

In addition, around NOK 1.7 million are listed as other compensation in 2018, as well as just under NOK 900,000 for health and pension allowances in 2019 and 2020.

In the course of this three-year period, more than 90 per cent of CAT’s income came from the Norwegian aid budget.

Purvis wrote to Panorama that the board of CAT «several years ago set my remuneration at USD 450,000 a year plus the usual allowances». He denied that the remuneration he received from CAT was higher than what was agreed with Norad.

Purvis also wrote that parts of the remuneration he got from the foundation were paid for by CAI, and that what was listed as a payment of around NOK 1.7 million was money owed to him by CAT because he had refrained from taking a salary in 2018.

However, he has not shared any documentation which supports these claims.

Purvis refers to the fact that the salary level in the not-for-profit sector in the United States traditionally is higher than that of Europe, and that his salary and allowances are not particularly high given his «experience and expertise».

Demanded a repayment of millions

Case documents we have seen show an ever more strained dialogue between Norad and CAT. In June 2021, Norad demanded a refund of around NOK 3.4 million on the grounds of what the agency felt were «significant breaches» of the agreement.

The Director General of Norad, Bård Vegar Solhjell, says the lack of transparency has made this case very challenging and states that:

– It is clearly unfortunate. We expect our partners to provide us with this type of information when we request it. Specific conditions have to be met in order to receive Norwegian aid funds and Norad is a government agency with particularly strict requirements for how we spend money. We expect our partners to accept this. The challenges involved in following the flow of money in this case have been considerable due to a lack of transparency. It is very problematic.

In the spring of last year Norad chose to greatly reduce their demand – from NOK 3.4 million to NOK 1.4 million.

However this reduced demand was also rejected by CAT, who claimed the foundation did not have the money to pay it.

Norad replied by increasing the demand to NOK 2.7 million.

The agency also threatened legal action and made it clear that they would, in line with the agreement, hold Purvis‘s consulting firm, CAI, and CAT jointly responsible for the repayment if CAT was unable to find the money.

Following this, the parties quickly agreed that CAI should pay NOK 1.4 million, which the firm did at the end of March.

– Why did Norad choose to reduce their claim when the agency believes so many irregular things had happened’?

– It is based on internal considerations which I do not wish to discuss. The original demand consisted of many elements. At one point we decided that it was important to get back funds that we were quite sure had not been spent according to the agreement, says Director General of Norad, Bård Vegar Solhjell.

– Was it ever on the cards to take the case to court?

– The threshold for Norad to take a demand to court is very high, and I believe the revelations of the case, learning from that, and having the money we were certain we were owed refunded, were the most important things’, he replies.

Has been a strain

Nigel Purvis, the head of CAI who was also the CEO of CAT during the period when the foundation received grants from Norad, rejects Norad’s accusations of a breach of agreement. He stresses that the refunded amount constituted a very small part of the original grant. Purvis feels the case arose from errors and misunderstandings on the part of Norad. He says that even if some things certainly could have been handled better, CAT is proud of the work it did for Norad.

«We are certain that we handled the grant money in a responsible manner – in line with the agreement with Norad and in the best interests of the project. We have for many years been known for integrity and results. Norad’s handling of this matter has been a strain», he writes.

Purvis thinks Norad’s handling is blameworthy:

«It appears that Norad’s right hand did not know what the left was doing. There has been a steady stream of new people on the case who have not been familiar with the project or its pre-history. When we, as a highly competent organisation from the ‘global North’ experience it that way, you must really ask yourself how organisations in the ‘global South’ experience collaborating with Norad.»

– Why did CAI refund NOK 1.4 million on behalf of CAT if it was felt the demand was based on an error?

«We have been collaborating with Norad for many years and have had a good relationship. It was important to find a solution, and it was an investment in a better relationship long-term», replies Purvis on the phone from Washington DC.

Unclear results

CAT delivered a comprehensive results report following the close of ‘Operation Sunlight’. It concludes that the project was a success and that the project objectives in the main were achieved. Purvis repeated the message for us:

– Norad has itself concluded that the project was a success, he said.

Norad’s account is more down to earth. According to the agency, several of the goals were achieved during the project period. For example, there was a reduction in deforestation in the relevant areas, however Norad thinks it is difficult to link that directly to the Norwegian-funded work carried out by Nigel Purvis and his team.

The Director General of Norad does not think the US climate foundation has delivered according to expectations.

– According to Norad’s expectations, this project has not achieved the expected results. An overall evaluation of the results achieved in the project shows that there are significant questions linked to the degree to which the activities of the project have actually contributed to the results. The conclusion is that the project did not deliver in line with expectations.

The online tool which was to make information about actors contributing to deforestation available, was never completed. However it still cost Norwegian taxpayers more than NOK 20 million.

Read about the case here: Norad paid 20 million for an online tool that was never completed

The strategic use of US legislation, which was funded by Norway to the tune of around NOK 14 million and which was meant to get US prosecution authorities to pursue actors behind deforestation, did not result in a single case ending up in the courts.

The CAT foundation applied for an additional grant from Norad of NOK 60 million for the period 2021–2025. The agency rejected the application on the grounds that:

«CAT’s lack of transparency and unwillingness to share information mean that the level of risk is too high for Norad to want to support the project through a new grant.»

Norad’s computer system currently features a red warning triangle next to the name «Climate Advisers Trust» with the following wording: «Please contact the central control unit in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs».

But even after Norad stopped all payments, the consulting firm Climate Advisers Inc. continued to receive millions from the Norwegian aid budget.

At the end of 2020, the Ministry of Climate and the Environment funded a two-year agreement whereby the not-for-profit organisation, Emergent, procured consultancy services from the commercial firm Climate Advisers Inc. for just under NOK 2.8 million. The agreement ended in January this year.

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