The New York Times recently ran an article about Washington-based think tanks that have received tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments, “while pushing United States government officials to adopt policies that often reflect the donors’ priorities”.
Much of the money going to the think tanks comes from oil-producing countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Norway.
The article in the Times starts with the example of a US$5 million funding agreement between Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Center for Global Development in Washington DC. The money was for a project called “Creating demand for REDD+”. The project details and emails between CGD and Norad are available here in a 69 page file.
The purpose of the project, which runs for three years from 2013, is
“to reduce tropical deforestation and its impact on people and the climate by substantially increasing the incentives for tropical forest countries to conserve their forests.”
CGD supports REDD offsets
CGD is in favour of REDD offsets, as this statement on the webpage about CGD’s Tropical Forests for Climate and Development initiative reveals:
Under REDD+, finance from industrialized countries would be contingent upon recipients achieving verified results and compliance with social and environmental safeguards. Current work on the REDD+ mechanism is seen as a bridge to a future in which industrial countries make ambitious commitments to reduce their own emissions. Some portion of these commitments can be met by paying for reductions in forest countries.
The Center for Global Development paints itself as a an institution that conducts “research and analysis on a wide range of topics related to how policies and actions of the rich and powerful affect poor people in the developing world”. That doesn’t sound like a hired gun working for foreign governments. Except, perhaps, when one of the world’s top oil producers offers US$5 million to promote REDD as a carbon trading mechanism in Washington.
The Times points out that, “Slowing deforestation could buy more time for Norway’s oil companies to continue selling fossil fuels on the global market…”. Recently Norway’s Statoil partnered with Russia’s Rosneft to search for oil in the Arctic.
One issue that The Times article raises is that of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, a US federal law introduced in 1938 aiming to fight a Nazi propaganda campaign in the USA. The law requires US organisations that are paid by foreign governments to register as “foreign agents” with the Justice Department.
“Yikes,” said Todd Moss, the chief operating officer at the Center for Global Development, after being shown dozens of pages of emails between his organization and the government of Norway, which detail how his group would lobby the White House and Congress on behalf of the Norway government. “We will absolutely seek counsel on this.”
And in a statement on its website in response to The Times article, CGD states that,
CGD is of course committed to compliance with all relevant legal requirements. We are reviewing our procedures with the help of outside counsel.
A 2012 internal report commissioned by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry states that:
“In Washington, it is difficult for a small country to gain access to powerful politicians, bureaucrats and experts. Funding powerful think tanks is one way to gain such access, and some think tanks in Washington are openly conveying that they can service only those foreign governments that provide funding.”
So the Center for Global Development is serving Norway. Fair enough. CGD has to get funding from somewhere. Why shouldn’t Norway fund CGD?
CGD should acknowledge Norwegian funding
But the project agreement between CGD and Norway states that,
The Grant Recipient should, if appropriate, acknowledge Norad’s support in communications and publications related to the Project.
As we might expect, given US$5 million of funding, CGD has written quite a lot about REDD since 2013. Here are just a few examples:
- 27 August 2014: Can California’s carbon polluters save Brazil’s rainforests?
- 7 August 2014: A Surprising Indigenous View of REDD+ – Mina Setra and Frances Seymour
- 7 April 2014: How Well Are Performance-Based Payments Working? Lessons from Guyana
- 18 March 2014: Do Trees Grow on Money? The Problem of Attribution
7 August 2014: Indigenous Peoples Rights and REDD+
Only the last of these acknowledges Norway’s funding for CGD’s Tropical Forests for Climate and Development initiative. The web page for the initiative itself makes no mention of Norwegian funding.
In a response to the Times article, CGD states, “We are fully transparent about all of our funding sources.” CGD has a “How we are funded” webpage, which does include details about the NORAD funding:
“55% of total grant amount subcontracted to CGD partner, Climate Advisors”, CGD states. That’s where things get really interesting. But that story will have to wait for another day.
Full Disclosure: REDD-Monitor has received funding from Rainforest Foundation Norway, which in turn receives money from the Norwegian government. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.