Close this search box.

Revealed: One-Tenth of UK’s billions in climate-aid spending goes via private consultancies

Revealed: Tenth of UK’s climate-aid spending goes via private consultancies


More than one-tenth of UK foreign aid spent on climate-related projects since 2010 has been channelled through consultancies, a new Carbon Brief investigation reveals.

To obtain these figures, Carbon Brief analysed more than 25,000 transactions listed on the government’s Development Tracker website from projects that contribute to the UK’s International Climate Finance (ICF).

While most UK climate funds are spent via large international bodies, such as the World Bank and UN agencies, a large proportion has been entrusted to the private sector.

At least £2.11bn has been handed to dozens of management consultancies, such as KPMGPwC and Adam Smith International. They have provided guidance on everything from hydropower dam construction in Nepal to farm diversification in Ethiopia.

These consultancies are nearly all headquartered in the UK and other global-north countries. Experts tell Carbon Brief there is opposition among some developing countries to climate aid being funnelled first through foreign consultancies rather than disbursed directly via local actors.

This also comes at a time of wider scrutiny from politicians and academics of the outsized role relatively expensive private consultants play in public life.

Climate transactions

The UK has committed to providing “climate finance” to developing countries to help them deal with climate change. The government distributes this money primarily through ICF, which is part of the foreign-aid budget.

Most UK climate finance is spent via a combination of UN agencies, development banks, international NGOs, management consultancies, foreign governments and local charities.

These organisations are entrusted by government departments with carrying out projects, conducting research and dispersing funds in developing countries.

While much of the money will have gone directly to projects, all of these organisations take cuts along the way to pay staff and other expenses. The spending decisions they make affect how much of it ends up directly benefiting climate-vulnerable people and funding low-carbon infrastructure.

Data on all the financial transfers from the UK government to these entities can be found on the “transactions” section of every project page on the government’s Development Tracker website. This includes everything from accommodation costs for aid staff through to large contributions to UN funds.

In June 2023, Carbon Brief extracted transaction data from every ICF-tagged project on the government’s Development Tracker website.

(This includes every project that contains a component of climate-related funding, but many projects also cover other issues, such as education and healthcare. Therefore, figures are higher than Carbon Brief’s previous reporting on the climate-specific portions of these funds.)

In total, £19.12bn has been “disbursed” to or “placed at the disposal of” recipient agencies, governments and other entities between 2010 and 2023. In addition, a far smaller sum of £832.96m is classed as “expenditure”, which covers money spent on goods and services.

Of the funds disbursed, information is missing for £4.86bn worth of transactions, where “receiver organisation” is listed as “N/A” or similar.