Revealed: Under 1/4 of UK climate aid to Africa goes to African-based orgs
The UK channels most of its climate aid to Africa through Western organisations, including $1 billion through private consultancies.
Less than one-quarter of the UK’s climate aid to Africa has gone to organisations based on the continent, new analysis reveals. Despite being for projects in Africa, the vast majority of this spending has instead been channelled through private companies, NGOs, or multilateral bodies based in the Global North.
Between 2010 and 2023, the UK has distributed £6.64 billion ($8.06 billion) in climate-related funds to Africa. This aid is part of its pledge to financially support climate action in developing countries. It is intended for projects ranging from installing solar panels on Nigerian schools to supporting “climate-smart” agriculture in Sudan.
An investigation by Carbon Brief looked into where this aid has gone. It found that 13% of it – or £833 million ($1 billion) – has been handed to private consultancies in the Global North. The UK’s use of consultancies such as Adam Smith International, PwC, and KPMG varies considerably across countries. In Nigeria and Ghana, a staggering 88% of the UK’s £282 million ($342 million) climate aid was channelled through these private firms.
The role of international consultancies in administering African climate projects is under growing scrutiny. Many experts say more money should go directly to local projects instead of expensive Western contractors who take a significant cut.
“At this point, the UK’s climate aid can barely be counted as climate finance. It’s more like a government stimulus package to aid their own financial consultancies,” says Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa. “Sending aid through a murky network of global middlemen just results in more of the funds going to them and less of it reaching the people on the ground.”
Consultancies are not the only Western-based organisations the UK gives money to for projects in Africa. Taken together, the Carbon Brief analysis suggests that 67% of the UK’s climate aid to Africa has gone to organisations based in the Global North.
A large proportion of this spending goes to multilateral organisations such as UN agencies and the World Health Organisation. These international bodies, who tend to be headquartered in the Global North, reallocate much of the money they receive to projects in developing countries but take cuts for salaries, overheads, and taxes along the way.
“Of course, most of this money was spent in developing countries,” says Nick Westcott, a professor at SOAS and former British diplomat. “But that it has to pass through global institutions before it gets there – the African Development Bank notwithstanding – speaks to the need for Africa to create its own credible financing institutions to manage the funds.”
Even if you remove funding to multilateral institutions, however, the significant majority (59%) of the UK’s remaining climate aid to Africa is still distributed to organisations based in the Global North. The analysis found that £634 million ($769 million) – about 10% of the UK’s total climate aid to Africa – went to NGOs based in the Global North. A further £397 million ($482 million) was given to public sector officials in Western countries.
Experts suggest that channelling aid for Africa through Western organisations is not just more expensive but often counterproductive.
“Most organisations in the Global North, even those with a strong track record on climate, have largely worked in a context of advanced economies,” says Faten Aggad, a climate diplomacy expert and adjunct professor at the University of Cape Town. “At the same time, there are several under-resourced organisations and consultancies in Africa that have a better grasp of the political and socio-economic context.”
She likens the UK’s climate spending to debates about “tied aid” – i.e. aid offered on the condition it is used to procure goods or services from the donor country – which have been found to increase costs for developing countries by up to 30%. Aggad warns that, with the UK’s climate aid patterns, “we are seeing a reversal and a return to practices that we have seen are ineffective and costly”.
The Least Developed Countries (LDC) group, led by Senegal, has said it wants to see 70% of climate finance going to local schemes.
For Adow, the underlying rationale for the UK giving so little of its aid to Africa directly to African organisations despite the benefits is clear.
“The colonial mindset is obviously very hard to shift,” he says. “Despite Africa throwing off those shackles, it’s almost as if the British government still can’t bring itself to give autonomy to African people who are the ones that best know their own needs.”