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Everybody is talking about the challenges of CCS related to (social) acceptance. But how do we define acceptance? And do we all interpret it in the same way?
When I talk with CCS project developers or policy makers involved in CCS regulation they confirm the importance of ‘acceptance’, but at the same time have difficulties in defining it. Often the definition falls flat in things like 'the society likes it', 'stakeholders support it', and 'no strong resistance exists'. Brrrr, to me these quotes raise even more questions! Who exactly is ‘the society’? What if citizens like it, but policy makers don’t? Do all stakeholders need to support it? What about the differences between regions and countries? What if resistance exists, but is not actively shown?
Defining acceptance is not an easy thing to do. When teaching university students about social acceptance of energy projects, I try to let them experience this complexity. I start with giving them the task to come up with examples of things that are socially accepted now, but were not accepted in the past and vice versa. This always leads to heated discussions amongst students that immediately prove the complexity of the concept. Often students give the example of smoking in bars and restaurants. While this was fully socially accepted 20, even 10 years ago, this is totally unacceptable in the Netherlands in 2012. At first glance all students seem to agree. The real discussion starts when someone adds: “I accept that people smoke in a bar. I’m a smoker myself and I prefer to go to bars where this is, although illegally, still allowed". And “in the Netherlands it is not accepted, but in Switzerland it still is. There people smoke everywhere and everybody seems to accept it. The same counts of course for many less developed countries".
The students themselves come to the conclusion that societal acceptance is the degree in which something (an idea, product or activity) is accepted by a majority of society (all individuals and organisations) within a specific context (location, timeframe, culture). This already sketches the framework of the term, but still the term acceptance is not really explained. To do that I raise the difference between ‘being in favour’ and ‘accepting’, in which the former means being a proponent. ‘Accepting’ can still mean you are not in favour or even an opponent, but accept something for another reason, i.e. because the majority is in favour, because you understand the added value for others, etc.
A more profound conceptualisation of the term is given by Wüstenhagen et al (2007). They explain social acceptance in three dimensions.
Socio-political acceptance is social acceptance on a general level of key stakeholders, policy makers and the general public. Community acceptance refers to the acceptance of a specific project by local stakeholders, authorities, and the community. A third level according to Wüstenhagen et al is market acceptance explaining the adoption of the new product or project by investors, consumers, and within the organisations initiating the projects.
These three levels of acceptance play a role in acceptance of CCS projects as well. National governments, general public, communities, local authorities, and stakeholders and project partners all have to accept the CCS project. Wüstenhagens’ conceptualisation thus fits the challenges of CCS projects regarding acceptance. It implies that acceptance should be managed at these three levels at the same time and thus argues for a multi-level engagement and communication approach to deal with these challenges.
Wüstenhagen, R. , M. Wolsink and M.J. Bürer (2007) “Social acceptance of renewable energy innovation: an introduction to the concept” in Energy Policy 35 (5, p2683-2691),http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.enpol.2006.12.001
This post expresses the views of this author and not necessarily of their organisation or the Global CCS Institute.