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
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
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
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
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