Talking about CCS – how, when and why

As part of our Spring 2020 Web Series, our Research Support Officer Rachel Money presents a lay view on the importance of narratives in communicating CCS effectively:

As part of the UKCCSRC Spring Web series, Professor Karen Turner, Director of the Centre for Energy Policy, University of Strathclyde and Dr David Reiner, Assistant Director, Energy Policy Research Group, University of Cambridge and UKCCSRC Deputy Director (Systems & Policy), both led sessions on social science aspects of CCS, climate change and net zero.

Narratives – telling the story with honesty and integrity

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Professor Karen Turner gave an economist’s perspective on CCS, looking at decarbonisation within the context of economic and societal factors, such as employment. Throughout the lecture, Professor Turner referred to narratives – an area Professor Turner and her research team clearly understand well – and highlighted research they have undertaken around political economy narratives, including a publication in Journal of European Public Policy. Narrative is also a theme that has come up frequently in discussions throughout the web series and Professor Turner provided enlightening insights.

Narratives help us to make sense of the world and order information in a way we can understand. How they are put together, what goes in and what gets left out makes a huge difference to what we think, feel and how we behave. Professor Turner talked about what it takes to create an effective narrative. She explained that in communicating information effectively, thinking about what matters to the stakeholder and what the story is for them, is a vital part of the process.  For CCS, how it’s talked about matters.

Professor Turner also noted that it’s not the same story for everyone, and shared an example of an organisation preparing twelve different narratives around CCS for it’s different stakeholder groups.  Having multiple narratives didn’t cause a problem for people, as long as they weren’t contradictory or incompatible, highlighting the importance of recognising different and varied audiences that cannot be grouped simply into industry, politician or the public. Within all this, are many different ‘publics’, all with different interests, beliefs, values, incomes, lifestyles, and more. ‘What matters most’ is different for everyone.

The message was clear that finding the right narrative is about speaking a language that the audience understands, so they can interpret the significance of what’s being said. The story is there to inform, not to spin something; for an academic community, the narrative is there to tell the story with honesty and integrity, cutting through the noise and assumption to speak to people about something they value. That way, they can make up their minds with genuine knowledge.

Choosing the right time and place to tell the story

Climate in a Time of COVID: Results from the 2020 UKCCSRC Survey on Energy and Climate

Dr David Reiner, in his session ‘Climate in a time of Covid’, reminded us that none of this falls into an open space. He talked us through the initial results of the 2020 UKCCSRC survey on Energy and Climate, explaining that these results would be looked at further, requiring analysis in context with many other societal factors that would have – or potentially have – an impact on the results. At this stage, two key things stood out:

  1. a lot of people don’t know what CCS is, and
  2. a lot of people think climate change is a big deal

The discussion moved on to communicating CCS. Dr Reiner explained that it’s a challenge for messages to reach the public, and the conversation looked at what has cut through and connected with people, and what hasn’t.  What happens in the wider context can make a big difference; how a message falls, and how it’s interpreted, depends on what’s already out there and what’s going on at the time.  How other noise and activity affects that message depends on the audience – what they hear and understand will vary with circumstance. Dr Reiner noted the potentially negative effect that raising awareness of CCS under particular circumstances could have; when and how you communicate, what and who to, are important questions to think about.

Getting the story ready

When it comes to communicating CCS and the role it can play in reaching net zero, working out the right narrative for the audience requires understanding who they are, and what it is they need to know. It also means giving due consideration to other factors that could influence the interpretation of your message, knowing when communication is needed and when your audience will listen. It’s a good way ensure the integrity of the information is upheld.

If you’re interested in finding out more about communicating CCS, you can join the discussion session on Wednesday 3rd June, ‘How can we communicate the importance of CCS for tackling climate change?’, chaired by UKCCSRC Director Professor Jon Gibbins.

Have an opinion on CCS, thoughts on a session you’ve attended or how we’re communicating CCS at the Centre? We’d love to here from you. Contact us here.

Sign up to the web series here.