Interview: "Sound science and good economics seem to have disappeared from British policy making"

The Commentator interviews Ambassador Alan Oxley on World Growth's new report indicating that the developing world is suffering due to groups such as WWF

Ambassador Alan Oxley questions Britain's role in development
The Commentator
On 8 August 2012 12:15

In advance of David Cameron's 'Hunger Summit' at the close of the Olympic Games, The Commentator spoke to the well known Ambassador Alan Oxley, who made his name serving as Australia's Ambassador to the General Agreement in Tariffs and Trade (GATT) which predated the World Trade Organisation.  

Oxley recently founded the World Growth International group, which promotes international development through free trade.

World Growth has a new report launching, entitled "The Development Tragedy". Here's what Ambassador Oxley told us about the report, British government aid and Cameron's Hunger Summit:

The Commentator: Tell us a little bit about your forthcoming report "The Development Tragedy" and broadly what is says about foreign aid and food security.

Ambassador Oxley: World Growth has been concerned for several years that the share of aid to promote economic growth - the surest way to reduce poverty – has fallen and less central issues, such as redistribution of wealth, improving gender balance, protecting the environment and improving governance now lead aid policy.  These are important in their own right, but they do not promote economic growth, some even retard it.

The need to increase global production of food - the UN forecast last year that world population, now 7 billion, might rise as much as 10 billion by 2050 - shows  more starkly how much aid policy has gone off the rails.  The report also shows the share of aid to support agricultural production has fallen even more than the share to support economic growth.  One result is that research to improve productivity of agriculture has also fallen.

The Commentator: Most people would agree with the statement that food security is a global challenge to which governments must rise - what exactly are governments such as the British, doing wrong?

Ambassador Oxley: Not only has direct aid to increase agricultural research and production fallen, the UK, supported by the Norwegians, the European Commission and to an extent the US Government, has given higher priority to funding programs in developing countries to replace productive industries with new, low carbon industries which are economically unproven.

British Government money has funded reports showing nearly 20 percent of global carbon emissions is caused by deforestation. Recent World Bank funded research shows emissions from forest clearance are less than 10 percent and might only be five percent. Sound science and good economics seem to have disappeared from British policy making.

The Commentator: Many Brits would side with the argument against forest conversions or deforestation in favour of farm land or for other uses - are you saying that we should have grand scale deforestation to increase food stocks?

Ambassador Oxley: What would most of those people say when the facts are that no more than 15 percent of the UK is forested, but in the target developing countries, forests still account for at least half of the country and all have set aside 23 percent for conservation, more than the 17 percent recently specified by parties to the UN Biodiversity Convention as necessary to protect biodiversity?

There is plenty of forest land available to convert to food production. Most people ignore the fact the leading cause of deforestation is poverty – poor people deforesting to create shelter, collect firewood and engage in subsistence farming. Conversion of forest to commercial scale agriculture is not the major driver. Palm Oil is attacked as a major driver of land clearance.  It accounts for only two to three percent of forest clearance in Southeast Asia, and only on land set aside for agriculture development. Aid to reduce poverty is the most effective way to curtail wasteful clearance of forest land.

The Commentator: What are the environmental implications for a rethink over land use, and who are the key objectors and why?

Ambassador Oxley: The argument is the environment is protected by stopping forestry because that is supposed to protect biodiversity. Most activists and aid agencies think expansion of conservation areas is the answer. This is fashionable, but technically unsound. The grim fact is that most conservation reserves are not properly run or adequately funded. That should be the priority for aid agencies or environmental activists.

The World Wide Fund for Nature is the global leader in the “halt forestry” campaign and has some very fashionable supporters. Like the UN climate change reports which it now stands accused of influencing, most of its forest analyses are political documents represented as sound science.

WWF has avowed to capture supply chains in forestry so big business can implement in developing countries the policies their governments won’t. That these strategies will undermine efforts to achieve food security will not bother WWF.  Ending poverty is not its business.

The Commentator: How do you think your report will be received, and why?

Ambassador Oxley: World Growth reports are received well in developing countries and either criticized or ignored by those cemented to the argument that deforestation must cease.

The food security question however is inescapable. The aim of our report is to get some sensible people in government thinking.

The Commentator:  In your opinion, why is Prime Minister Cameron convening the 'Hunger Summit' at the end of the Olympic Games? What does it signify and what, in your opinion, will it achieve?

Ambassador Oxley: I suppose the Prime Minister thinks those who are concerned about how much the Olympics cost might be mollified if he used the platform of the Games to draw attention to the need to tackle food security.

Let’s hope he does not trap himself like Mr Blair did. He used G8 summits and the global climate change negotiations to energize the global anti-forestry campaigns which now threaten to hinder greater food production.

Given how the US drought has underlined once again the need to tackle food security, I would like to think the “Hunger Summit” will underline how essential it is that aid programs enhance, not undermine, food security.

World Growth has a new report launching, entitled "The Development Tragedy".

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