Core factors and processes in the public perception of CO2 geological storage: the ECO2 study on the Italian and UK contexts.

S Vercelli*, Simon Shackley, S Pirrotta, CM Maynard, F Modesti, L Mabon, S Bigi, S Beaubien, S Lombardi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Book/Report/Policy Brief/Technical BriefResearch report


Research has been conducted in the ECO2 project to identify the core factors and processes whichdetermine the public perception of CO2 geological storage, attempting to advance the state of theart by investigating in-depth psychological and psychodynamic dimensions. The aim was not only tobuild upon previous work to describe and explain the present representations of the technology, butrather to try to identify the constitutive elements that influence them. To this end, differentmethods and approaches were used in Italy and Scotland, from Emotional Text Analysis to the VoiceCentred approach, from psychodynamic elaboration to cognitive approach analysis.The widespread situation in Europe and internationally, which finds people having a low awarenessof the technology, was confirmed in both countries studied, as was the common difficulty in gettingacquainted with CCS. The distance that people feel from the topic, its technological characteristics,the plans for its inclusion in emission reduction strategies, and the projects for its implementationseems to be the most important determinant of public perception. This is not only related to a lackof knowledge, background or awareness but also to the remoteness of a technology which cannotbe directly perceived and whose justification is related to themes, like climate change, which appearto be rather confusing for many people.However, moving beyond the core feeling of a lack of connection to the topic, different reactionswere observed in the Italian and UK contexts, also in relation to the different research settings. In alistening and empathic context where people can interact with experts the proposition of CO2storage as a topic raises interest, as was the case of the Italian focus groups, and relates to manyaspects, that involve not only the technology and its safety but also ecologic, economic, political,societal and educational issues. Instead when people are presented with a variety of themes fordiscussion under the banner of the need for deep carbon cuts, a situation which is much nearer toreality, they will not choose to focus on CCS, as the experience of the Scottish panel indicates. Theyprefer to focus on themes or technologies which are smaller-scale, more tangible and within therealm of socio-technical experience since these technological systems appear more relevant andinteresting and ones that they feel they can act more easily upon (i.e. have agency in relation to)(domestic energy efficiency and district heating systems are examples).People develop an interest in the technology when they are given the space and time to explore it. Adedicated context and relationship with experts helps develop impressions and ideas as well asexplicit questions and doubts. This kind of process, which produces an ‘informed public’, asexperimented in the ECO2 project, can be of great benefit for researchers trying to understandperceptions and for all stakeholders wanting to better comprehend what is relevant for thepopulation and how these needs can be met. However, it is important to be aware that interest inthe technology is not spontaneous and this, in turn, implies that most people, unless facilitated, willuse quick forms of reaction and thinking and possibly discard the idea without ever properlyconsidering and analysing it. This specific condition for CCS apprehension, needs to be taken intoaccount as an important factor that influences public perception and it should direct communicationefforts to finding effective (and scientifically sound) messages that could appeal to quick andintuitive forms of thinking.Generally, themes that are touched upon when people become engaged and are given theopportunity to reflect, bring to the forefront an awareness of the complexities and uncertainties 5involved in decisions on whether or not, or how, the technology should be implemented. There are anumber of wider issues that are raised. With regard to the technology the informed public is lookingforward to a better understanding of: i) the compatibility of CCS with the development ofrenewables, ii) the real costs and who is going to pay for them, iii) the implementation timeline(including transport and pipeline networks), iv) means of verifying correct operation, sitemanagement and closure, and v) liability and management issues. More generally CCS does notescape diffuse diffidence towards decision making mechanisms, which still do not manage tosufficiently involve people. It also poses serious questions about the present relationship with natureand the use of resources, the ethical implications of what is meant to be a bridging solution (are wereally solving the issue or just patching up the symptoms?), the fairness and equal distribution ofcosts and benefits of different technological options, and the safe, correct and honest managementof industrial plants and resources.The recommendations section of this report discusses potential facilitating factors that could helpstakeholders looking to empower a scientifically informed exchange on the technology between thedifferent sectors of society. Fundamentally, dissemination about CO2 geological storage shouldhappen within contexts that encourage people to explore and make use of both quick and slowthinking and which also provide an opportunity to elaborate emotional reactions, through contactwith experts prepared for communication with the public.Creating such opportunities, with the participation of different stakeholders, such as politicians,operators, public authorities, researchers and civil society organisations, could support thedevelopment of a more advanced understanding of the possible role of CO2 geological storage in oursociety. In specific situations, such as the implementation of a CCS facility, this approach could helpdecision making processes and the roll out of projects.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyEU FP7
Number of pages51
Publication statusPrint publication - Jul 2015
Externally publishedYes


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