Reporting from the workshop on ethics and governance issues in CCS

Written by Dr Sarah Mander, Research Fellow at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research who helped convene the workshop with Dr Clair Gough and Dr David Reiner

A bright Edinburgh morning brought approximately 40 UK, and international, participants to the beautifully renovated space of the Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Innovation to a UKCCSRC event focusing on the ethics and governance of CCS. The day kicked off with five perspectives focusing on the ethics and governance of CCS and Bio Energy CCS (BECCS) intended to inspire a mapping session to scope pertinent issues.

We came by planes, trains and bikes, except for Duncan McLaren; he presented from his home in Sweden, a showcase for virtual attendance! Duncan reminded us of the temporality of BECCS and how negative emissions occur over time as biomass grows. A key question was whether BECCS, which could remove CO2 from the atmosphere, should be prioritised should reservoir capacity prove to be limited, after all mitigation can be done in other ways.

Matthew Cotton (University of Sheffield) delved deeper into the literature on ethics framing CCS, as set out in AR5, in this context. His exploration of the ‘many ways to skin an ethical cat’ took the audience on a journey from normative to technology ethics. At the centre of his argument was a call for a new type of ethics or moral theory for CCS, as it embodies a new set of moral choices over the role of technology and individuals for climate change mitigation.

Leslie Mabon (Robert Gordon University) took the audience on a visual journey, applying the ethical principles of justice, competence and avoiding harm to the deployment of CCS in NE Scotland and Japan.   Familiar with, and benefitting from North Sea oil and gas, many Scottish stakeholders were more comfortable with the potential deployment of CCS, than that of offshore renewables, though perhaps this is related to the financial benefits that these stakeholders would not get from renewables.   In Scotland there was little doubt as to the competence to deploy CCS, though concern that deployment could increase fuel prices, causing harm through fuel poverty. The town where Japan’s first CCS project has a strong industrial heritage and there is trust in the local industry. Legacies of the tsunami mean there is an emphasis on competence in identifying risks from the sea, and preventing industrial disasters.

Karen Bickerstaff (University of Exeter) focused on procedural justice and the need for responsible innovation. Cautioning that engagement in CCS happens downstream to support deployment as opposed to technology development; government regulation has narrowed the opportunities for communities and publics to debate deployment and alternatives. This lack of transparency contrasted with the transparency implicit in responsible innovation, where actors become responsible to each other and mindful of ethical considerations.

With over a decade of experience in CCS research, Heleen de Coninck (Radboud University Nijmegen) considered why CCS deployment has stalled.  Some generic factors were identified – resistance, lack of market signals and rising costs, but others were context specific, such as the impact of the recession or confidence in other options, such as renewables in Germany. Whilst many actors are important in governance terms, Heleen identified three key actors – communities, leaders and political leaders – and their specific governance conditions.

Carly Maynard (University of Edinburgh) closed the morning by bringing the focus back to publics and reminding us that whilst we may be convinced of the need for CCS, others are not. She added a note of caution for those of us researching CCS, highlighting that many may question why they are being  consulted on topics they know little about.

Moving onto the afternoon, an overview from Clair Gough (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research) of her work developing ethical principles for CCS led into breakout groups which started to unpack and define some key perspectives on CCS ethics. 

A comprehensive and multidimensional assessment of ethical and governance issues emerged from the groups spanning spatial, geographical, generational, institutional, environmental aspects and more.  The first workshop that we know of focusing on ethics and governance, it was a stimulating day, to be followed up with another workshop in the spring. Watch this space!   


***presentations can be accessed on the event page***