The climate foundation Climate Advisers Trust received around NOK 20 million to create an online tool that would contribute to greater transparency about companies that contribute to deforestation in poor countries. In the meantime, the tool never became publicly available, as planned. The picture shows destroyed rainforest in Ecuador, which is among the countries that receive support through the Norwegian forest initiative

The Climate Advisers Disclosures:

Norway paid NOK 20 million for an online tool against deforestation – was never completed

The purpose of the online tool, Lucida, was to expose companies and actors contributing to rainforest destruction. However, the project which received NOK 20 million from the Norwegian aid agency never came to fruition. The US climate consultant Nigel Purvis thinks the agency only have themselves to blame.

Publisert Oppdatert

It was Purvis and his recently established climate foundation, Climate Advisers Trust (CAT), that in 2019 and 2020 were granted NOK 70 million for the project ‘Operation Sunlight’. One important aspect of the project was to develop an open database where organisations, journalists and authorities would find updated information about companies contributing to deforestation.

This initially comprised countries like Indonesia, Colombia, Brazil and Peru. The long-term plan was to also include other countries, for example in Africa.

It was Nigel Purvis’s company, Climate Advisers Inc. (CAI), that a few years earlier had conceived the idea of such an online tool. In 2017 and 2018, CAI received a total of around NOK 2.5 million to develop the concept. At the time the money came from a consultancy agreement the company had with the Ministry of Climate and the Environment (KLD).

The facts of the case:

  • Between 2019 and 2020, the US foundation Climate Advisers Trust (CAT) received a grant of 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.

From 2019, further millions of kroner were granted to CAT for the development of the online tool in connection with the Norad-supported project ’Operation Sunlight’.

Read the main investigative story about Operation Sunlight here

According to CAT reports to Norad, a considerable effort was made in 2019 and 2020 to develop the tool, which became known as Lucida. The foundation collaborated with local organisations in Indonesia, among other countries, on data collection and with web developers to create the actual online tool.

Not operational

However, despite the more than NOK 20 million paid by Norad for the work on the online tool, it was never finalised. There is currently no openly accessible online tool, as was envisaged by the plan.

The project accounts show that the majority of the NOK 20 million of aid money was spent on consultancy services in the United States.

According to reports received by Norad from CAT, Lucida was only launched for a period as a password-protected beta version, and only accessible to a selected test group.

However, the founder of CAT and leader of the foundation’s work on ‘Operation Sunlight’, Nigel Purvis, does not think the foundation is to blame for the fact that the database never became the effective tool against deforestation that was outlined in the application to Norad.

In an email to Panorama Nyheter, Purvis wrote that the Lucida platform actually was completed, in as little as 18 months. He asserted:

The Lucida platform was finished. We did for example build a unique relationship map which visualised the connections between investors, banks and companies responsible for deforestation’.

He explained that the reason the Lucida platform did not become operational was that Norad chose to terminate their support to the project.

According to Purvis, ‘CAT was left with no choice but to abandon the Lucida tool. If Norad had continued their funding the tool would today be available to forest protectors all over the world. However, given the high costs of providing updated data, CAT was unable to keep the tool alive on its own’.

– Zero tolerance of malpractice

Hilde Dahl, Deputy Director at the Norad Section for Forests, admits that the ending of Norad support to CAT in all likelihood affected the results of ‘Operation Sunlight’ and the work on Lucida. She said:

‘It is true that Norad’s termination of funding probably affected the final results in the project since it meant that CAT was prevented from completing all the planned activities’.

At the same time she underlines that Norad has an overall responsibility to ensure that the funding they grant is spent in accordance with the agreement.

‘When we suspect this is not the case it is our duty to follow it up as we have zero tolerance for financial misconduct. In this case it resulted in a halt to the support for the project and a termination of our collaboration with CAT’, Dahl said to Panorama Nyheter.

In our main feature both CAT and Purvis reject the accusations from Norad.

14 million for ‘strategic litigation’

In addition to the more than NOK 20 million for the development of the Lucida tool, CAT was also given around NOK 14 million for another part of ‘Operation Sunlight’: Strategic Litigation.

The idea was to use United States legislation to increase the risk to companies and other actors contributing to deforestation in forest countries such as Brazil, Peru and Indonesia.

CAT was to collaborate with local organisations in the collection of data which were then to be presented to authorities in the United States.

The aim was for American prosecutors to choose to pursue these cases in the courts, which in turn would result in a change of behaviour of the companies contributing to deforestation.

The Lucida tool was completed but is not available today because Norad cut the funding, asserts Nigel Purvis, who led CAT’s work on Operation Sunlight. The work on Lucida cost more than NOK 20 million. The photo is from a presentation of Lucida which Panorama news have been given by Nigel Purvis.

Not one single case

Reports received by Norad show, however, that so far not one single case has been followed up by the United States authorities.

Purvis, himself a qualified lawyer, does not believe this is a result of poor work by CAT, writing that:

‘The work of CAT in the Strategic Litigation part of the project was to collaborate with local partners in order to prepare criminal cases for the courts and action from public prosecution authorities. CAT did this by submitting a number of well-researched and documented cases to the public prosecutors and legal institutions’.

He underlines that the United States authorities alone decide which cases to pursue, and that several years of investigation are often required before an indictment can be issued.

According to Purvis, ‘CAT cannot be held responsible for the decisions of the prosecution authorities or the timing of the Government’s actions. The prosecution authorities in the United States are under-funded, primarily focused on national crime, and monitored by politically appointed officials. CAT did deliver the high-quality work we promised, even though the anticipated result has not yet materialised.’

- Not delivered

Norad’s Hilde Dahl does not hide the fact that the agency is disappointed by the results of the project, in which Lucida and Strategic Litigation were important components, commenting that:

According to the Deputy Director of the Forest Section of Norad, Hilde Dahl, Norad has no plans to follow up the components of Operation Sunlight.

An overall evaluation of the project results reveals significant questions about the degree to which the project activities actually have contributed to the results, and the conclusion is that the project has not delivered in line with the expectations.’

– Will some of the work on the online tool Lucida or Strategic Litigation – which together cost around NOK 34 million – be continued in some way by Norad?

‘Norad has no concrete plans to further develop the specific components of this project.’

Cost-effectiveness is emphasised as important in the Norad guidelines for funding. Do you feel that Operation Sunlight has been a cost-effective use of aid money?

‘CAT has previously delivered good results and achieved the objectives of their projects. If they had done the same in this project, it would have been a cost-effective use of aid funding. Unfortunately they have not achieved satisfactory results in this project.’

- Too ambitious

The forest section of the Ministry of Climate and the Environment which strongly recommended Norad support for CAT and Operation Sunlight despite objections from the directorate, has declined to be interviewed about the case. In a written reply they write the following on Operation Sunlight:

‘The project, like much of CAI/CAT’s previous work, was ambitious and innovative. CAI have for many years delivered positive results and built expertise from the work with Chain Reaction Research which has been important for raising awareness among financial stakeholders of the financial risk connected to deforestation, and they have been used by many leading investors.’

The Ministry is clear that they ‘agree with the project’s theory of change’ around increased transparency about companies that are responsible for deforestation, and that some important interim objectives were achieved at the output level.

However, the Ministry of Climate and the Environment fundamentally agree with Norad:

‘This project does not appear to have delivered a breakthrough in the way that other Climate Advisers’ projects have. In hindsight it appears over-ambitious, and the main objectives about reduced deforestation too high level with clear challenges of attribution, as pointed out in Norad’s results report.’

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