Demonstration banner

New research has identified communication gaps that could hinder the deployment of carbon dioxide capture and storage (CCS) technologies to mitigate climate change.

Most of the information about CCS is from sources that are perceived by the general public as ‘less trusted’, such as business and governments, rather than research institutions, established media or NGOs.

Dr David Reiner

CCS has been described by advocates as the single biggest lever to combat climate change. The technology – which aims to capture carbon dioxide generated by fossil fuel power stations and store it safely and permanently deep underground – has, said Rt Hon. Chris Huhne MP, UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, “a key part to play in ensuring that we can keep the lights on at the same time as fighting climate change.”

Despite the enthusiasm, no commercial-scale CCS projects for power plants are yet in operation. For governments and industry, the main barrier is cost. By contrast, for environmental groups, concerns have been voiced about the continued use of fossil fuels and the impact on their preferred options such as renewable energy sources.

Concerns about CCS also extend to local populations, as Dr David Reiner from Cambridge Judge Business School explained: “Recent early stage CCS projects in Germany, the Netherlands and America have all generated substantial local opposition and led to projects failing. Aside from technical progress that will bring down costs, more needs to be learned about what factors will affect the chances of CCS becoming widely adopted.”

His research team, together with colleagues from across Europe, has focused on how information about CCS is communicated, asking whether key lessons can be learned that will affect the technology’s deployment.

Communication strategy

A key step was to carry out a global review of CCS communication practices: who is communicating what aspects of CCS, and why? “We found that most CCS communication, which is principally via websites, is very good at explaining the technological processes involved. But, in areas that are likely to be of most concern to society, such as costs, policy alternatives and wider social implications, there is scant coverage,” said Dr Reiner. “Moreover, most of the information about CCS is from sources that are perceived by the general public as ‘less trusted’, such as business and governments, rather than research institutions, established media or NGOs.”

These are serious obstacles believe the researchers, particularly as their findings indicate that environmentalists base their evaluations about CCS on what role they believe it will play in society rather than on whether they think CCS technology works or not. This view of environmental activists is based on data the researchers gathered in Climate Camps – grassroots movements that advocate direct action on climate change – and Green Party conferences in the UK. Participants at both displayed considerable understanding of the issues involved.

When it comes to the general public, though, the level of understanding of CCS was found to be considerably less. The research team investigated the opinions and perceptions of CCS by residents in five European Union member states who live in the region of planned projects. “One major finding was that if the residents felt that the planning process was fair or that their local community had been treated fairly in the past, this had a direct relationship to their attitudes towards the local project,” added Dr Reiner.

Avoiding a ‘perfect storm’

“Our research has shown that many of the first projects have engendered a type of  ‘perfect storm’, whereby the communication with the local community is problematic, is presented as a fait accompli and is provided by ‘less-trusted’ sources, such as the developers,” explained Dr Reiner. “In addition, the community is frequently sceptical from the start because of previous bad experiences with local infrastructure planning.”

The researchers believe that improving communications and thinking more carefully about the social characteristics of the project at the design stage will reduce the likelihood of opposition. Under certain conditions, they found that even many strident environmental activists are willing to support (or at least not oppose) CCS.

“There is no magic formula,” he added, “but taking the extra time needed to bring in more-trusted voices such as university scientists or environmental groups will increase the likelihood that these first projects, and ultimately CCS more generally, will be successful.”

Cambridge Centre for Carbon Capture and Storage launched

A recently launched Centre, led by Director Professor Mike Bickle (Department of Earth Sciences), with Dr Stuart Scott (Department of Engineering) and Dr David Reiner, will facilitate collaborative research and act as a focal point for CCS research at Cambridge.

For more information, please visit

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page.