The European Public’s opinion about CCS

Public awareness: on average one out of ten knows what CCS is (survey result in 12 Member States of the EU). In the Netherlands over half of the people knew what CCS is, but no other country is anywhere near as well informed. A short simple explanation leads nearly forty per cent to think it’s an effective method against climate change. But there are of course also concerns about the technology. Properly targeted information could influence the public acceptance.

Derek Taylor is a geologist with a PhD in geochemistry, 5 years working in exploration, 7 years at the OECD and 25 years with the European Commission. He wrote this article – in which he sums up the most important results of a public opinion survey (the Eurobarometer) about the awareness and acceptance of carbon capture and storage – for the Global CCS Institute.

Awareness and acceptance of CCS

Last month the European Commission (EU) released the results of a public opinion survey, called the Eurobarometer, about awareness and acceptance of carbon capture and storage in 12 (out of 27) of its Member States. Over 13,000 people were interviewed during the survey (February – March 2011) with the countries covered being:

• Germany;
• United Kingdom;
• Italy;
• Spain;
• Netherlands;
• Poland;
• Finland;
• France;
• Greece;
• Czech Republic;
• Bulgaria; and
• Romania.

In six of these countries the EU has already made a very significant contribution to financing large-scale CCS demonstration projects (around one billion euros already committed) while the remaining six countries are either heavily dependent on coal or have expressed an interest in launching their own CCS demonstration projects. So these are all countries in which public awareness of CCS could be expected to be above the average.

Awareness of the technology is still very low

The very large majority of people had never heard anything about the large CCS demonstration projects in their countries.

While public awareness could be expected to be above average, awareness of the technology is still very low with only one person in ten knowing what it is. A further 18 per cent had heard of CCS, but did not know what it was, while 67 per cent had never heard of it. There are very important regional differences between the countries. In the Netherlands over half the people knew what CCS was. No other country was anywhere near as well informed with Germany (13 per cent), Finland (12 per cent) and the UK (11 per cent) being the only ones with ‘above EU average’ knowledge of CCS. In Poland, Italy and Spain, all countries with plans for large CCS demonstration projects, the public has a well below the EU average knowledge of CCS. The very large majority of people had never heard anything about the large CCS demonstration projects in their countries.

Interestingly, while there was a low level of knowledge about CCS, once it had been described to them, there was a fairly even spread of whether or not people thought it would be effective against climate change with:

• nearly 40 per cent of the people interviewed saying it would be;
• 25 per cent did not think it would be; and
• 36 per cent remained undecided.

If a short and simple explanation of the technology can convince at least 30 per cent of the population about the effectiveness of CCS … then it is possible that public acceptance of the technology could be influenced by properly targeted information.

This is reason for some optimism for the CCS community. If a short and simple explanation of the technology can convince at least 30 per cent of the population that CCS can be an effective weapon against climate change then it is possible that public acceptance of the technology could be influenced by properly targeted information.

One disappointing result was that only 23 per cent of the people in Germany believed CCS could be effective while 34 per cent believed it would not be (43 per cent remained undecided). This is in the context that 80 per cent of Europeans know that carbon dioxide plays a major role in climate change.

Most Europeans did not expect local benefits from CCS projects

Most Europeans did not expect local benefits from CCS projects with only 23 per cent expecting benefits (improved air quality and employment) while 38 per cent see disincentives to such projects (lack of positive impact on the environment and risks of water and air pollution). Again, however, there was a high percentage of ‘don’t knows’ at 39 per cent. The majority of safety concerns related to storage (61 per cent) though 39 per cent were also concerned about the transport aspects of CCS.

Mixed opinions on potential site storage

The question about where to locate storage facilities gave rather intriguing results with:

• 21 per cent indicating offshore;
• 20 per cent indicating onshore near the capture plant;
• 23 per cent indicating onshore but away from centres of population;
• 19 per cent did not know where it should go;
• 15 per cent did not want any storage at all; and
• 5 per cent did not mind where it was stored.

Results seem to indicate greater support for onshore rather than offshore storage.

Surprisingly, this would tend to indicate greater support for onshore rather than offshore storage however there was considerable regional variation.

The people in the Netherlands and the UK preferred offshore storage, which would explain, or possibly be explained, by the fact that both governments have made it clear that CCS demonstration plants would only be licenced with offshore storage sites (at least for the time being). On the other hand the people in both Poland and Spain have a strong preference for onshore storage although ‘don’t knows’ is still the reaction of many of the population in all of these countries.

Asked if they knew about sources of their electricity, most people were aware of the role that coal played in generation in their country though many overestimated the role renewable energies played. Asked about alternative energies the best known was photovoltaics followed, rather surprisingly, by nuclear fusion (a technology many people believe is still decades away from commercialisation) with clean coal coming very low on the list (especially in Germany).

Most people believe that CCS should be compulsory on all new coal-fired power plants.

This may partly explain why that in only four out of the 12 countries (Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and the UK) there was a majority in favour of the use of coal in energy production. Not surprisingly there was a strong majority in favour of photovoltaics (94 per cent) and wind energy (89 per cent) with only nuclear having lower support than coal.

In Germany and in Greece, both countries which rely heavily on coal for their electricity production, there was a strong majority again for coal. In spite of these numbers there are more than twice as many people in the EU who believe that fossil fuels will still be used for electricity production after 2050 as think it will not be (49 per cent vs. 23 per cent) – with the most positive views being in Finland, the Netherlands and Germany! Even more people believe that CCS should be compulsory on all new coal-fired power plants (60 per cent for vs. 11 per cent against).

The full report on the survey – which includes many other interesting insights into the public’s views on climate change, carbon dioxide and energy, can be found here.

Source: June 2011, Global CCS Institute

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