The Public Perceptions of Carbon Capture and Storage

TitleThe Public Perceptions of Carbon Capture and Storage
Publication TypeTyndall Working Paper
SeriesTyndall Centre Working Papers
Secondary TitleTyndall Centre Working Paper 44
AuthorsGough, C., C. McLachlan, and S. Shackley
Year of Publication2004
Abstract

The key aims of this paper are two fold. Firstly to explore the public perceptions of carbon capture & storage (CCS), both when first presented with the idea and when more background information is provided. Secondly to explore and understand perceptions of the key risks and concerns surrounding CCS and what information, policies and processes would make CCS more and less acceptable to the public. In order to achieve these aims two citizen panels were held in late 2002 / early 2003 to explore public perceptions of carbon capture and storage (CCS). Each panel met 5 times for 2 hours and heard from a variety of technical experts. In addition, a face-to-face survey of 212 individuals was conducted during August 2003. Note, however, that the present questionnaire sample size is not large enough for the responses to be statistically representative of the UK population or a segment thereof. Research on perceptions of CCS is challenging because of: a) the relatively technical and 'remote' nature of the issue, meaning that there are few immediate points of connection in the lay public's frame of reference to many of the key concepts; b) the early stage of the technology, with very few examples and experiences in the public domain to draw upon as illustrations. These issues are discussed, and the research methodology is explained in terms of managing these difficulties. On first hearing about carbon storage in the absence of information as to its purpose, we found that the majority of people either do not have an opinion at all or are somewhat sceptical. Once (even limited) information is provided on the role of carbon storage in reducing CO2 emissions to the atmosphere, opinion shifts considerably towards slight support for the concept. Support depends, however, upon concern about human-caused climate change, plus recognition of the need for major CO2 emission reductions. It also depends upon CCS being seen as one part of a wider strategy for achieving significant cuts in CO2 emissions. A portfolio including renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency and lifestyle change to reduce demand, was generally favoured. CCS can be part of such a portfolio but wind, wave, tidal, solar and energy efficiency were generally preferred as options. As a stand alone option, it was felt that CCS might delay more far-reaching and necessary long-term changes in society's use of energy. The notion of CCS as a 'bridging strategy' to a hydrogen-based energy system was welcomed. It was felt that uncertainties concerning the risks of CCS had to be better addressed and reduced, in particular the risks of leakage, of accidents, or environmental and ecosystem impacts, and any human health impacts. The results are reasonably encouraging vis-à-vis potential public reactions to CCS provided that its purpose is well understood and that the key risks are acknowledged. The need for CCS should be put clearly into the context of climate change and the need for large long-term reductions in C02 emissions to the atmosphere. The use of CCS as part of a portfolio of decarbonisation options which range from new technologies, to lifestyle change, should be stressed, rather than presenting CCS as a 'stand alone' option. A partnership approach to control and regulation of CCS would be generally welcomed, in which government, industry and environmental NGOs each have a role to play. Recommendations for future research are made.

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