Skip to main content

New participation and communication strategies for neighbours of CO2 capture and storage operations

Final Report Summary - NEARCO2 (New participation and communication strategies for neighbours of CO2 capture and storage operations)

Carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and storage (CCS) is considered a serious option for climate change mitigation strategies. In the first CCS projects developed, public resistance has appeared to be a potential showstopper for implementation. Therefore, the NEARCO2 project has provided essential ingredients for effective communication and public involvement strategies related to CCS projects. Based on reviews of regulatory context and current practices for public participation, and in depth analyses of opinion shaping factors, the project developed new (elements for) participation strategies and new multi-media communication material. Some key outcomes of the project are the following:

- For effective communication and engagement strategies, it is important to realise that CCS projects are often initiated by teams or consortia of parties, with different backgrounds, skills, knowledge, resources and organisational cultures. As a consequence, there seems to be a lack of internal alignment. NEARCO2 developed elements to address this issue, by elaborating a new step into the ESTEEM toolkit, a comprehensive engagement process methodology. It includes important elements a project developing team should discuss and agree on: the goals of the strategy, its scope, the mandate for those in charge of engagement and communication, and key milestones and relevant evaluation / adaptation moments. These points were further elaborated in the form of hands-on checklists.

- Surveys, focus groups and review revealed that CCS is hardly known to the public and to relevant stakeholders, and the same applies to its relation to climate change mitigation. Generally, there is substantial public support to it, but this support was measured to be much less in regions in which a CCS project is under development. Local public support also seems to depend on local contingencies, such as local industrial history and social capital.

- Awareness of CCS and knowledge about it can be relatively independent from each other. Dialogue boards showed that public media are considered very important for dissemination of CCS, but surveys showed that they are generally not considered the most trustworthy source of information, nor the most frequently used source.

- An experiment showed that diagrams do not help and may even hinder public comprehension of technical aspects of CCS, in this case CO2 storage depth, and concludes that such information may better be given in plain text. However, the experiment also demonstrated that comprehension of CO2 storage depth is unrelated to risk perceptions and opinions about CCS.

- The legal and regulatory framework in which a CCS project is developed provides important boundary conditions for its communication strategy. Regulatory conditions both influence the degrees of freedom for a communication strategy, and they also affect the possible impacts of communication. Therefore, early interaction between project developer and regulatory authorities is vital, in order to prevent foreseeable pitfalls and come to an effective strategy. For example, if legal conditions say that an environmental impact assessment needs to be paid by the project developer, while from a communication point of view it's already clear that this payment creates the risk of the EIA not being publicly trusted, early consideration can lead to a solution, e.g. by jointly selecting the EIA contractor.

- Surveys indicate that public knowledge of climate change, CO2 and CCS is minimal. In the NEARCO2 project, a multimedia DVD was developed providing balanced and well-accessible information on these subjects. However, application of the DVD in focus groups showed that participants' attitude towards CCS did not become more positive after having seen and discussed the DVD; they also indicated to have many remaining questions. This shows that:
(i) providing information does not by definition create more positive attitude; and
(ii) bridging the public knowledge gap will probably require more extensive research.

Project context and objectives:

CO2 capture and storage is increasingly being considered as a serious option to mitigate climate change. Industry and governments, mostly in North Western Europe, have taken on the effort of realising large scale CCS operations. Meanwhile, the option has started to attract attention from the larger public as well. Public engagement in the development of CCS operations will increase over time, in terms of both the number of stakeholder groups participating and the extent to which these groups are involved. This process has already started and is developing rapidly. The press has started to report on CCS and the option has been discussed in sessions of the European Citizen Consultations (see online) early 2007. Industry has also started to inform the public actively on proposed CCS projects.

Research findings up to now indicate that public awareness of CCS is low and that people know little about this option. To enable the public to form a fully considered opinion on a technology as complex as CCS, access to factual, comprehensive, and reliable information is required. For example, the public should be adequately informed as to how the implementation of a project may affect them. However, currently little is known about what would constitute effective communication and participation methods in CCS projects and how these may differ for various audiences. By 'effective' communication and participation methods, we mean: Suiting the public's needs. These needs will differ by group, depending for instance on proximity to project sites. As perceived personal relevance is a key determinant of issue involvement, people living in the vicinity of a CCS project site are likely to have other information needs and opinions about CCS than the public at large. Therefore, it is important to identify the information needed by the public, as well as the mechanisms that may affect the formation of public opinions.

The NEARCO2 project investigates these issues, starting 1 April 2009 and ending 31 March 2011. The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Commission (EC)'s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) under Grant Agreement No. 226352. The research is being done by the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands, the Institute for European Environmental Policies, Judge Business School Cambridge, Tyndall University of Manchester, Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research, and the Centre of Energy, Environmental and Technological Research, and is being coordinated by ECN. More information as well as contact information can be found on the website of this project (see online).

1. Research questions

Previous research has covered public awareness of CCS and public opinion about CCS technology.

Research on public awareness has shown that in general public awareness of CCS technology and its implications is limited, although levels of public awareness differ across the European Union (EU) Member States. However, the general public is likely to become interested if CCS projects are to become operational in their own environments. Research on determinants of public opinion toward CCS is scant. In particular, little is known about the type of information the public actually needs in order to establish an opinion, underlying determinants of public opinion, and possibilities to engage the public in decision making on CCS operations. In this project, the objective was to address these gaps in the following ways:

1. We investigated how public opinion of CCS is shaped, which groups to focus on in the communication of the advantages and risks of CCS, and investigated the aspects of CCS about which the public needs information to reach an informed opinion on all the implications for society, the local and global environment. These insights are crucial to effectively involve the general public in any decision making related to CCS projects.
2. We analysed the regulatory context for public participation, public information needs and mechanisms shaping public opinion. Several of these factors were studied in-depth.
3. We derived currently applied strategies for public participation from a number of case studies. These strategies may serve as blueprints for approaches to involve the public in the vicinity of any other newly planned CCS operations, both in countries adjacent to the North Sea and in member states in Southern or Central Europe.

Our findings and conclusions provide valuable input for the development and assessment of public participation strategies and communication materials on CCS. These disseminated to local stakeholders and the larger public.

Project results:

We present the key findings in WP order.

WP 1: Regulatory context and current practices for public participation

Three reports have been produced on this topic. First, to investigate the context for minimum legal requirements for public participation, we made an inventory of formal processes leading to policy and project approval at the general level in the EU and six Member States: Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Legal requirements for the role of public participation in the development of CCS projects have been examined, including mandatory dialogues and public hearings with non-governmental organisations (NGOs), local authorities, other stakeholders, and the public at large as well as information campaigns and other interactions possibly required by existing national and international regulations. Results set the context for 'minimum' requirements that may dictate much of what happens in practice.

Current practices are the focus of a second report, which concentrates on the lessons to be learned from CCS and analogous developments in recent years about effective and ineffective communication and participation strategies in CCS projects. To this end, we have conducted eight case studies on CCS and other industrial or infrastructural projects in the participating member states. This has helped us determine the nature and effects of the communications and consultation strategies used by project developers and government. Results show that most stakeholders and local public are not involved in the process of decision making. The report provides recommendations for consultation exercises in future CCS projects.

The aim of the third report is to provide an overview of factors that shape public opinion on CCS operations and the relevant sitting issues. The conclusions drawn as a result of this report indicate that there are multiple interacting factors that influence public opinion. In order to address different thought processes among different demographic and socioeconomic strata, this report also emphasises the fact that enabling effective communication strategies in relation to CCS will only be successful if a multi-channel, multi-source approach for disseminating information and inducing discussion is used.

WP2: In-depth analysis of opinion shaping factors

WP2 investigated the opinions, attitudes and perceptions of CCS by residents in five EU Member States (Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Poland and Spain), comparing the views of those who live close to a planned project in these countries, national samples and a selection of (local) stakeholders and opinion shapers (local politicians, council officials, journalists and NGO representatives). The WP looked at four sub-areas: the role of the media, the importance of the information source, characterisation and communication of risk and the importance of local contingencies. Methods applied were qualitative reviews (of local contingencies and characterisation of each of the five projects), public surveys (nationally and specifically for the CCS project regions), surveys for regional stakeholders, online focus groups and an experiment on the effect of textual and visual information. The public surveys were conducted in each of the five countries and at least 400 respondents were recruited in each country, half of whom were drawn from the region of the local CCS project and half drawn from a nationally representative sample. In parallel with the public survey, 170 stakeholders were recruited for largely similar survey. Roughly 400 respondents were recruited to participate in the experiment on textual and visual information. The main findings were as follows.

Knowledge of CCS

- In total, a large minority of public respondents across the five countries responded that they had never heard of CCS, whereas 10 % indicated that they knew quite a bit. Among stakeholders, self-reported knowledge of CCS was substantially higher. Except for the Netherlands, the share of those answering that they had never heard of CCS was far lower than in the 2011 Eurobarometer on CCS, even while half of the respondents in NEARCO2 came from the vicinity of a CCS project. Males, highly educated and older respondents were more likely to have heard of CCS.
- Only 19 % of all public respondents indicated 'genuine knowledge' that CCS is supposed to reduce climate change only. By contrast, whereas 78 % of stakeholder claimed to know 'quite a bit', just over half (51 %) indicated that CCS only addresses climate change.
- Although United Kingdom respondents claimed to be least aware, they show the highest level of genuine knowledge of CCS, whereas over three-quarters of Dutch respondents claimed to be aware, but less than a quarter possessed genuine knowledge. In the qualitative phase of the research, many participants of the focus groups stated that they did not feel well informed about CCS at all, and that in particular they did not know about the local project that was being planned.

Attitudes towards CCS in general and to the local project

- The public survey showed that public respondents from all five countries were supportive of CCS technology in general (net +51 % favourable; most support in Poland and least in Germany). By contrast, stakeholders were more negative about CCS in general than positive (net -20 %). Relative to CCS in general, net favourable ratings for the local project were notably lower (public: 10 % lower; stakeholders: 16 % lower). Net support declines among the public in all countries, most dramatically in Germany where there is a net negative rating of the local project. In the other four countries, there are still sizeable majorities who view the local project favourably (most in Poland, least in the Netherlands).
- A (positive) linear trend was found between distance to the storage site and opinion about the local project. For the capture site, those who live closest to it were more positive towards the local project than those who live farther away.
- Providing respondents additional information about risks of CCS technology had a net negative effect on respondents' opinion about the local project. As expected, respondents who are genuinely knowledgeable about CCS were less likely to change their opinion, and males did so less than females. However, the negative effect occurred in all groups.

Role of the media and sources of information

- The most likely source for further information about CCS was deemed to be interactive websites such as wikipedia or blogs, followed by university scientists / scientific publications, and then national / international NGOs and national news media. Word of mouth, the developers and the EU were the least preferred sources. Among stakeholders, interactive websites were ranked much lower; the most likely sources for more information were university scientists / publications, national/international NGOs and local NGOs / community groups. Stakeholders were far more likely to consult different sources, as were German and Dutch public respondents.
- University scientists / publications scored highest in terms of respondents' trust to give them impartial information about CCS, with (inter)national NGOs second highest. Developers, national governments and word of mouth scored lowest. There were large differences between the countries: German respondents tended to rate (inter)national NGOs as most trustworthy, and Poles placed greater trust in the EU. In the dialogue boards (DB), participants argued that the media has a very important role to play in the dissemination of information about CCS and in drawing the public's attention to CCS in the first place. DB participants also reported that they were very dissatisfied with the amount and quality of the information they did manage to get about the project.

Characterisation and communication of risk

- For all countries surveyed, public respondents were more risk-averse regarding first level risks (uncertainties over parameters and models) than zero level risk (uncertainties about outcome). More surprising, public respondents were more risk-averse over first level risk than over second level risk (uncertainties about the implicit assumptions). As expected, respondents from all five countries were most risk-averse regarding third level risk (so-called 'unknown unknowns').
- Outcomes confirm our hypothesis that risk perceptions and risk aversion negatively correlate with trust in government, politicians and project developers. We also found a negative correlation between respondents' concerns about risks of CCS and their distance to site.
- Answers to the open question in the survey mostly contained concerns over safety, including unknown risks and side effects, and the costs of CCS. Additionally, worry over 'long-term' consequences was consistently mentioned. These concerns also emerged from the DB focus groups, particularly the unpredictability of risks. This was often illustrated by the unforeseen effects of the then-recent Japanese earthquake.
- A separate experiment was performed on approximately 400 people to test the effect of visualisations of CCS on comprehension and attitudes and risk perceptions towards CCS. Respondents were given either:
(i) no diagram;
(ii) a 'wrongly scaled' diagram which appears to indicate a shallow injection shaft; or
(iii) a 'properly scaled' diagram that indicated an injection depth of 1 km.
The visuals were accompanied with a text describing CCS as either storing the CO2 'underground', 'deep underground' or '1 km underground'. Respondents were then asked to recall or estimate the depth of injection and answer questions on risk perception, attitudes and personal relevance of CCS. We found that the more precise indication of depth in the text the better respondents' estimate of depth, but the more precise the indication of depth in the visual, the worse the respondents' estimate of depth. We also found that respondents' depth estimate of the injection of CO2 is unrelated to their attitude towards CCS, risk perceptions of CCS, and to perceived personal relevance of CCS. However, a more positive attitude towards CCS is related to less perceived risk and lower personal relevance.

Importance of local contingencies

- Each of the five projects is different in the form they would take, the local socio-economic context, and the national and subnational political context. Some areas, such as Yorkshire and Humberside in the United Kingdom, have a history of coal mining, now generally held in a nostalgic view, others such as the German project are partly in an area with no industrial history, and partly in a region where coal mining has had a very destructive effect on the local community. Local survey responses confirmed our hypothesis that there was a positive correlation between attitude towards CCS projects and local industrial history. Local perceptions of the fairness of the planning process in general and whether the local community had been treated fairly in the past also had an important positive effect on respondents' attitudes towards CCS, particularly with respect to the local project.

Social capital and political activism were found to have a number of statistically significant associations with attitudes towards CCS. As social capital increased, support for the local CCS project increased proportionately. Political activism, such as involvement in past strikes or demonstrations, was associated with lower support for the local CCS project.

WP3: Development of engagement and communication strategies

This WP consisted of two steps, of which the outcomes were reported in the one deliverable for this WP:
- a review of existing practices of public engagement (partly based on WP1/2 outcomes), an exploration of literature on organisational practices, interviews with project developers, and an inventory of existing toolkits and guidelines on this matter, leading to an identification of critical gaps between current and ideal practices;
- development of strategies for local engagement and communication that address the identified gaps.

The gap analysis identified several topics on which existing toolkits provide no or limited guidance. Some essential findings were:

- Internal alignment:
Whereas toolkits and guidelines on public engagement typically consider project developers as unitary bodies, in the sense of one organisation with one vision, in practice this is often not the case. Toolkits lack explicit and elaborate attention to the fact that the prospective end-users have different backgrounds, skills, knowledge, resources and cultures. This effect is even stronger when the project is developed by a consortium of parties. As a consequence, project developers may have a difficulty coming to a common engagement strategy and speaking with one voice.

- Us of toolkits and timing:
Mostly toolkits appear to be used to check whether the approaches chosen are consistent with those of others, merely ex-post and not as a help to design an approach ex ante. Also, there seems to remain a tendency to stay quiet as long as no one protests; even if project developers largely subscribe to the principle of early engagement and communication, in practice this is not done. As a consequence, developers often encounter the question how to adapt or increase further engagement and communication when conflict has already surfaced. Existing toolkits do not offer advice for this.

- Instrumental approaches and scope for negotiation:
Most project developers look at engagement and communication from a very instrumental point of view, intended to win support or at least gain acceptance of the project. For example, there is much attention for communicating the necessity of CCS. Also, project developers generally see limited room for substantive negotiation with local stakeholders. Most toolkits / guidelines provide no or only limited support in getting clarity on the aims of engagement. Additionally, they offer no elaborate mechanisms for costs-benefit sharing, e.g. in terms of employment opportunities, mitigation measures, changes in the design or exact location of a project, compensation measures, quality of the further process.

On the basis of this analysis, the project developed some elements for improving engagement and communication strategies, focusing on the first gap identified above: the fact that project developers are no monolithic entity and need to continuously align views within their organisation in order to operate effectively in their interaction with local stakeholders. In order to realise this, an additional step was introduced into the ESTEEM toolkit, the most comprehensive process methodology reviewed. This step is important throughout the entire project process, as it also relates to organisational learning. At least the following points of discussion and agreement should be part of this internal exploration and reviewing process:
- the goals of the engagement and communication strategy;
- the scope of the engagement and communication, including the way participants' input will be treated: will it be an instrumental approach or will the team aim at dialogue and negotiation?
- the mandate for those designing and implementing engagement and communication;
- key milestones and relevant evaluation moments during the engagement process, including an exploration of subjects open to evaluation and change.

These points were further elaborated in the form of hands-on checklists that can be easily implemented in the ESTEEM process format. Also, we included a discussion on potential indicators for the eventual assessment of engagement and communication strategies. These can relate to the process as well as the outcome, and their specification should take place in the internal alignment process. For a specific Polish CCS case, we provide a number of concrete suggestions for the engagement and communication process using these insights and a detailed study on the process so far.

WP4: Development of new multimedia communications material and test in focus groups

In this WP, a multimedia presentation was developed and applied, presenting CCS in a neutral way to explore in detail public reactions to installations in the entire CCS chain. The rationale for a multimedia presentation is that this is the format most likely to make CCS 'real' for people. In addition, the DVD may be employed in public participation projects. For both applications, it is very important that the DVD is seen as an objective presentation of merits and limitations of CCS. Therefore much effort has been put into providing an as balanced and neutral as possible picture of climate change, CO2, and CCS.

The DVD was applied in a study into European public perceptions of CCS as determined through six focus groups, one held in each of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, Belgium and Spain. The development of opinion and the emergence of concerns were observed via phased exposure to the DVD, which provided an overview of CCS technology, its rationale and associated debates, supplemented by additional information on national energy mixes. In general there was a high level of commonality in opinion and concerns across the six countries, with only minor differences. The concerns that emerged were not allayed by the information provided. On the contrary, there was evidence of a shift from initial uncertainty about CCS to negative positions after exposure to the DVD. CCS was generally seen as an uncertain, end-of-pipe technology that will perpetuate fossil-fuel dependence. Furthermore, the participants were far from convinced that CO2 can be stored securely for thousands of years. We infer that the case for CCS as a bridging tool to a lower carbon future, and reassurance on the risks posed by CO2 leakage, will need to be made convincingly if the general public are going to accept CCS. The research also revealed that the majority of the participants were unfamiliar with the concept of CCS and sceptical of information that they consider originating from industry or government. An essential, though challenging lesson for communicating information about CCS is the need to improve the level of trust between the general public and the key advocates of CCS, namely government and industry.

The focus groups study also confirms that many of the key findings of previous qualitative studies of CCS perceptions do still apply across several European countries. To reiterate: the general public are relatively unfamiliar with climate change, CO2 and CCS, they have a preference for renewable energy over CCS; they have significant concerns relating to the risks involved with storing CO2 and they lack trust in government or industry to make the right decisions about future deployment of CCS.

WP5: Dissemination

This principal WP capitalised on the results of the other WPs, by wide spread dissemination of the recommendations of the project and the communication materials developed, e.g. to national and selected local authorities, NGOs, and to industry. The WP consisted of four key tasks:
- creation of a project website and blogs
- production of mailings and news feeds
- press releases, scientific publications and presentations
- dissemination workshops.

Creation of a project website and blogs
A website has been on-air since the early stages of the project. It contains a description of objectives, methods and partners, and internal website for the partners, all deliverables and the newsletters. However, it does not contain a blog. As advised by the advisory board, and approved in the mid-term review, it was decided to focus on professionals in (communication on) CCS as the prime target group and provide them with insights and tools to improve their communication processes. The project has not been designed to address the general public directly; blogs and discussion forums would divert attention from the prime objective and could also cause the project to lose its relative scientific objectivity.

Production of mailings and news feeds
Throughout the project, two newsletters have been produced and distributed to a wide audience of (national) governments and industries. The mailing list for these letters was constructed on the basis of all partners' extensive contacts in the field.

Press releases, scientific publications and presentations
Other activities include presentations and scientific publications. Also, we provided several publications and feeds to the popular press. All activities are listed below in this final report. Furthermore, there has been active dissemination not only by the coordinator and partners but by the members of the advisory board as well. Last but not least, there has been ongoing intensive contacts with several other national and international research programmes on public perception of CCS, such as the Dutch CATO2 programme, a GCCSI funded global CCS case studies project, a GCCSI funded global CO2 understanding project, and the recently completed FENCO-ERA project, on public perception and communication of CCS in six European countries (United Kingdom, Germany, Netherlands, Romania, Greece and Norway).

An overview of the project's performance on the indicators for evaluating effectiveness of dissemination is also provided below. In scientific outputs, presentations, survey responses and DVD dissemination, the project has performed clearly above target. The number participants to the final workshops is clearly below target. While we originally intended to organise these workshops back-to-back with other relevant events, agenda issues prohibited this. As a result, the number of participants was lower than desired. Finally, five indicators relate to direct communication with the general public: general public presentations, mailing list recipients, website visitors, web discussion entries, and popular articles. In the mid-term review, it was decided that the general public should not be a key target group of the project: it should focus on communication professionals. Therefore, these indicators have become not or less relevant: we have not done any general public presentations nor developed a discussion forum on the project website. The number of mailing list recipients, website visitors and popular articles has reached on average half of the original target.

Potential impact:

The EC in its presentation of an enabling framework for CCS January 2008 argued that CO2 capture and storage will be crucial to meeting long term climate objectives. Yet, CCS is a relatively new option, and experiences with implementing large-scale demonstrations and public involvement therein is limited. Recent experiences in CCS project throughout the globe clearly indicate that effective strategies for local communication and stakeholder involvement are vital for the successful development and implementation of this technology. The project has facilitated the large-scale deployment of zero emission power plants in the EU by addressing the issue of public acceptance. In particular, the project has:
- shown the importance of consistency within project consortia communication strategies, and provided recommendations for improving this;
- shown the relevance of local social site characterisation, provided essential methodologies and insights for doing this, and indicated how participation strategies may be tailored to account for such local conditions;
- illustrated the clear public knowledge gap on climate change, CO2 and CCS, provided material for bridging it but also clearly showed that bridging this gap will require substantial efforts;
- shown the impact of regulatory contexts on CCS projects and their communication strategies, providing options for better alignment;
- enhanced wide spread awareness of CO2 capture and storage as an important climate mitigation option, by using large scale surveys, and by wide spread dissemination of both project findings and communication materials;
- increased understanding of the importance of the information source for shaping public opinion, in order to better assess how the efforts of industry, local government and NGOs would need to be shared in order to objectively inform the public of the pros and cons;
- increased understanding of how risk characterisation and communication affects risk perception among the larger public and thus acceptance of CCS.

These recommendations are relevant for industries and local governments that wish to involve the public in decision-making on a newly planned CCS operation timely, in the form of exemplary strategies for involving the public, as well as communication materials, notably a multi-media presentation. But also, the recommendations and tools are relevant to national authorities that wish to include CCS as a fundamental ingredient of their national abatement policies and that need to convince large groups.

These recommendations can be guiding for designing legislative conditions that provide more room for the more early and flexible mechanisms for engagement and communication that this project suggests. Also, industries can use it to their benefit, e.g. by development of a sanctioned industry standard for these processes.

While the results obtained in the six countries included in the research may not be representative for Europe as a whole, they are likely to support at least the kick-start of CCS in selected Member States, e.g. Italy. These include the countries from the project participants where proposals for CCS demonstrations are most advanced. Countries in which CCS will be introduced later may learn from early experiences in these Member States.

NEARCO2 focussed on CCS projects. However, many lessons learnt will also be most relevant for the many other energy technologies in which public resistance has become an issue: wind, bioenergy, nuclear, power connectors, etc.

The project outcomes were extensively disseminated among CCS project developers and their communication specialists, other relevant stakeholders and the scientific community.

Project website:

Project coordinator details:
Ms Marjolein de Best-Waldhober
ECN Energy Research centre of the Netherlands
Unit Policy Studies
Radarweg 60
NL-1043 NT Amsterdam
Tel: +31-224-564798
Fax: +31-224-568339