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Subject: Charles Secrett, Executive Director, Friends of the Earth, England and Wales and Northern Ireland

Why do you think the US delegation is holding out on seemingly unobjectionable targets such as the one on sanitation [halving the number of people who donít have access to clean water and sanitation by 2015]?

The Americans hate the sanitation target, because they think it's totally undeliverable. 

They don't like agreeing targets that they don't think can be delivered. They're not like the Southern Europeans, who'll will sign up to anything and then never implement it. After all, you could have a huge Decade of Sanitation, pour money in, and find there's no capacity to make change happen.

NGOs need to remember that we're not dealing with robots or aliens. Americans are as moved by people living in desperate poverty as anyone else. It's got nothing to do with them being against poor people.

They just don't want to waste taxpayer's money on corrupt regimes, countries with no capacity, or those UN agencies that are notorious for spending money with no controls.

What are your criteria for success at the conference?

This is something we've started discussing.

First of all, it's important to be clear that we believe in the Earth Summit process. We take it very seriously indeed. The political shenanigans may frustrate us, but we understand this is a fantastically complicated process and no one has a monopoly on the right answer, not even the NGOs.

However, the press is very cynical in lots of countries. They lie constantly about what goes on at these summits and demonise what we do here. 

So campaigning NGOs who believe in the process have a difficult judgment to make. It's a very serious matter to walk away and call the whole summit a failure. On the last day, however, all the media will want from us is a sound bite - and this is incredibly hard to pitch so you get the right analysis across.

Haven't NGOs undermined the summit by criticising it relentlessly? Kevin Watkins, director of strategy for Oxfam, for example, described the summit as a "tragic farce" before it even started?

That's just a stupid statement - but then Oxfam is going off the wall these days. Kevin is trying to dramatise the facts in a soundbite. We have campaigners like this too. They try to get too clever to get their quote in the paper. Everyone knows that if you come up with a graphic quote, you know it's going to get printed.

What about NGO pressure during the summit?

That's different. Then we're campaigning to put political pressure on the Ministers, and getting their constituents to put pressure on them at home.

You can either help politicians or hurt them - and very few NGOs are in a position to help. There's only three ways you can hurt politicians, apart from shooting them, which we don't do: at the ballot box, through opinion polls, or through professional opinion formers in the chattering classes.

Of course, when hurting them, you can also hurt the whole summit process, so it becomes a fine judgement call. It's important that we keep pumping out solutions, communicating them directly to our supporters and to government, as well as trying to communicated them through the media.

So how will NGOs decide how to react to the summit?

It's a very difficult thing to work out. We've got to be coordinated, but we can't all have the same view. And anyway there's 72 hours to go - with everything to play for from here on in.

31 August 2002





Who?Charles Secrett
Where?Friends of the Earth, England, Wales and Northern Ireland

"Americans don't like agreeing targets that they don't think they can deliver on.

Americans are as moved by people living in desperate poverty as anyone else.

It's got nothing to do with them being against poor people."

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