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CCS public engagement - "Dressed in overalls and looks like work"

When reflecting on the global status of an energy technology on the brink of commercialisation, it seems fitting to quote one of America’s most prolific inventors, Thomas Edison, who was lauded not just for inventing the electric light bulb, but also for making sure his inventions made it out of the research lab and into the market place. He is also credited with this beautifully apt quote:

“We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work”.

The Global Status of CCS: 2012 report highlights the many challenges faced by those charged with the task of engaging the public on CCS. It shines a spotlight on recent public opinion surveys and social research which reveal a fundamental lack of understanding of climate change, energy and CO2, never mind the complex hybrid of technology solutions proposed to help mitigate some of their worst effects. It touches on the increasing difficulties for industries and governments when it comes to building trust with local communities, and to make the case for large-scale investments in the face of challenging economic conditions. And it confirms the persistent issues that those communicating about CCS face, when trying to openly and responsibly explain risks (particularly storage risks) to a non-technical audience.

In the face of these 'overall-clad' challenges, it would be easy to assign public engagement to the 'just too difficult' pile, but instead, for the first time, the Global Status of CCS report takes the opportunity to dedicate an entire chapter to the topic.

As Edison suggested, opportunities – in this case, the development of strong public engagement practices – don’t happen without hard work, and in the Global Status of CCS: 2012 report it is evident that there has been a step change in the effort invested to better understand and improve public engagement and communication practices.

The chapter draws heavily from the impressive body of social research and practical guides emerging from collaborations with CCS projects, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) and a network of international social researchers. Encouragingly, many of these resources were also cited by projects responding to the 2012 project survey, as resources they are actively using to enhance their own project-specific guidelines on engagement.

The results of the 2012 project survey clearly demonstrate a growing recognition of the importance of public engagement, with the overwhelming majority of projects past the early Identify phase of the project lifecycle, confirming that their project has some form of public engagement strategy. 

By examining the project survey data in the context of all the findings from emerging social research and reported demonstration project experience, the public engagement chapter of the report highlights some interesting trends and correlations: the types of communities that CCS projects are dealing with, the communication and engagement tools that are being successfully used by projects, the key areas of concern voiced by stakeholders, the current levels of satisfaction projects have with their community data, and the value projects place on public engagement strategies as a risk mitigation tool.

However, perhaps the most exciting trend evidenced in the public engagement chapter, is the emergence of lessons learnt and best practice guidance actually rooted in real CCS demonstration experience. 

Discussions of public reactions to different communication and engagement methods need no longer be hypothetical or based on analogous industries. The benefit of concerted efforts to ensure knowledge is shared from both challenging and positive early CCS demonstration experiences, is clearly demonstrated through the many quotes and anecdotes happily provided by real projects.

“At Quest, we demonstrated our commitment to responding to community input by making a total of 30 changes to our initial pipeline route in order to take account of community feedback. Upfront community consultation had tangible benefits for our project.” - Len Heckel, Business Opportunity Manager, Shell Canada Energy, Quest Project, Canada.

“Our job was just to explain the facts about CCS in a way that people can understand. We made sure we had plenty of third-party advocates such as academics at the meetings who could explain things in everyday terms. The theory says that you need everyone’s permission – you don’t. But you do need everyone to see that you are listening to their concerns.” - Monica Lupion, International Affairs Director, CIUDEN, Compostilla Project, Spain.

“In the end it’s about the people behind the monoliths. It’s about personal contact, you have to be sensitive and that means you have to invest time and money and effort.” - Marc Kombrink, Director Stakeholder Management, ROAD, The Netherlands.

Given the many acknowledged challenges involved in effectively engaging the public on the topic of CCS, I think Edison would wholeheartedly approve of an innovative approach that encouraged experts to openly share experiences and learning, and support each other to tackle each challenge.


[1] Eurobarometer, 2011, Eurobarometer Survey on Public Awareness and Acceptance of CCS, Special Eurobarometer 364, DG-Research, viewed 09 July 2012,http://ec.europa.eu/public_opinion/archives/ebs/ebs_364_en.pdf

[2] Itaoka, K., Saito, A., Paukovic, M., de Best-Waldhober, M., Dowd, A-M., Jeanneret, T., Ashworth, P. & James, M.  2012. Understanding how individuals perceive carbon dioxide: Implications for acceptance of carbon dioxide capture and storage. CSIRO Report EP 118160, Australia. Viewed 07 Sept 2012, http://www.globalccsinstitute.com/publications/understanding-how-individuals-perceive-carbon-dioxide-implications-acceptance-carbon

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