UKCCSRC – Issues in Ethics and Governance

Dr Jen Roberts is a ClimateXChange Research Associate at the University of Strathclyde and received funding to attend the meeting through the ECR meeting fund. 

Carbon Capture and Storage deployment comes wrapped up in a curious web. The web is anchored to many topics which all weave into each other, including issues of policy, governance and ethics. These are looped into or branch over different levels of the web, entwined from the project level (technology chain, or cluster, liabilities, local impacts and benefits), and from the local to the global (and the stages in between – regional, national, international). The web has an added dimension: time. And CCS is not alone. This web is just one of a multitude of others which together make up one nexus; the low-carbon energy transition (which in turn is wrapped up in the larger web-within-a-web-within-web [repeat] of, well, life…).

[NB: Writing this has made me really really want to draw this web but I fear may enter a sort of gossamer trance from which I never return. Research papers won’t write themselves].

Recognising the web of CCS, the UKCCSRC supported a 2nd workshop on ‘Issues in Governance and Ethics of CCS’, building on the success of last years inaugural workshop on this theme. The 2015 workshop followed the IEAGHG Social Research Network (SRN) meeting entitled ‘Energy Transformations and the Role of Social Sciences’. Much of my research at the University of Strathclyde surrounds the assessment of environmental and social risk of low carbon energy development (and issues of perception and uncertainty in these), and some recent work with ClimateXChange trialled a method of democratic decision-making on energy policy. So I was really looking forward to the meeting in Cambridge, where the consecutive workshops were to be held.

The two events excellently complimented each other, and many delegates, like myself, attended both. There were between 25-30 delegates at each, which, together with plenary discussions, and refreshment breaks, allowed ample opportunity to speak with most other attendees (big thanks to the organisers and facilitators for ring-fencing plenty of ‘white space’ for plenary or group discussions). Delegates were mostly from research, with a couple from CCS organisations or industry, and there was an interesting range of perspectives, drawing from other low-carbon energy issues. The themes and discussions in the two events interleaved somewhat, and so it will be tricky to isolate for this blog just the ‘Issues in Governance and Ethics of CCS’ workshop, so I will simply take you through the day:

Scene-setting: David Reiner (Judge Business School, University of Cambridge) and Claire Gough (Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of Manchester) set the scene for the day, summing up the SRN workshop the previous day, and last years UKCCSRC Governance and Ethics workshop.

Part 1 – Policy and Finance: Tim Dixon (IEAGHG) kicked off the workshop talks. He offered his overarching reflections on recent movements in the international CCS policy – which have been relatively energetic following a couple of years of torpor. He highlighted IPCC AR5 scenarios and the comparative cost of CCS (which, if CCS is not deployed, will increase the cost of carbon mitigation by 138% in the 2 degrees scenario), the timing of the report for COP-20 in Lima, the view of CCS and the finance sector given the new financial risk of stranded assets. The role of CCS and unburnable carbon is a topic of current research, and BP and Shell have made statements indicating some movement on CCS in the last couple of months. All quite promising. Peta Ashworth (IEAGHG SRN) followed, presenting her recent work on the perception of CCS in the finance sector and NGO’s complimented Tim’s reflections. She found that CCS is still in the game (or at least in the arena) in the finance world, which is seeking useful dialogue (not CCS advocacy). The interesting insights from the work, and Peta’s Leximath diagram of values in the finance and NGO sector, got many of us excited and anticipating the report of her work once it becomes publicly available.

Part 2 – International CCS, R&D, and governance: Over Skype, Elin Boasson (Center for International Climate and Environmental Research, Oslo) told us the interesting and unique story of CCS in Norway, where CCS policy has ultimately failed even though the country had a seemingly favourable situation (pro-CCS public, a pro-CCS government, and a mostly state-owned Statoil with suitable expertise and assets). Elin explored why Norway’s CCS policy failed, and examined the role of (and tensions between) the organisational sector (technology, industry, society), the national political field, and the EU in the evolution of the complex affair. Discussions followed on EOR (would this change things?), fossil fuel divestment (where does CCS fit?), political motivations (and quality/longevity of these), relevant and limitations of learning from case studies. After lunch, Karl McAlinden (Geoenergy Research Centre, University of Nottingham) then presented his interesting research about social learning and innovation of CCS in China, and explored aspect of ethics of innovation. Karl has examined the shape, form and motivation of the international CCS communities, and mapped out the independent variables that affect the effective adoption of CCS R&D in China. The next couple of years may be interesting, since international cooperation blossomed rapidly and has since plateaued while CCS development has paused.

Part 3 – Public perspectives on CCS governance: Emma ter Moors (Leiden University) outlined her interesting research with CATO-2 into appropriate compensation mechanisms should CCS projects be sited in their principality. The preferences of citizens and local government authorities (LGAs) were assessed. There were some similarities and differences in the compensation mechanisms, but Emma also explored how the two groups perceive each others preferences – and the LGAs are quite good at predicting citizen preferences, whereas the reverse isn’t quite true. I had opportunity to present an overview of a ClimateXChange project about involving Scottish citizens in deliberative decision making about wind energy development in Scotland. The ambitious project ran Citizens’ Juries in 3 different locations, to trial the method as a means of informing how citizens would wish development to go ahead. The research was interesting and surprising, since relatively similar collective recommendations were made by each group despite the individual preferences of the jurors (the jurors had anticipated this actually). They felt that decisions informed by similar deliberative processes would be fairer, and the individuals also enjoyed the process, and developed civic skills. In our conclusions, we propose ways that these processes could be adopted, and I wished to hear from the room about how these approaches could address some of the issues of lack of trust in governance or community disconnect in policy and planning, and developments such as CCS.

Part 4 – The ethics of technical fixes: After the break, Nils Markusson (Lancaster Environment Centre) livened up the afternoon by exploring and discussing comparative and disparate ethics elements of CCS (that used to sounds like sci-fi technology and is now somewhat less wacky) and Climate Engineering options (the current wacky sci-fi technology). Nils compared the feasibility, readability, legitimacy, and the shift of technology relevance as time ticks on. Nils explored aspects of the ethics of these technical fixes to societal problems, and an interesting discussion ensured, drawing parallels with GM and CCS in the deep ocean. The temporal aspects of energy and industry flows, and the ethics of present development was an interesting theme in the SRN workshop cropped up again in this session.

Future Look: A facilitated discussion in smaller groups rounded off the day. The groups explored learning from different governance contexts and different levels of governance – and prospects for future research and themes (social science research is more than public perception, and not for PR…contrary to what some people seem to think).

See what I mean? An interesting and varied day. And I haven’t even gone in to the talks and topics from the day before…

St Catherine’s College was a beautiful, peaceful, venue. We were all were exceedingly well fed (oh, the cheese!) and watered (oh, the apple juice! No really, it was fab), the sun beamed lazily into the room where the nourished academic minds blossomed…etcetera…. I was a couple of minutes late each morning because I somehow ended up recklessly trespassing on various college grounds as I attempted to navigate my way to the college – excellent mental and physical exercise the morning after the superb arrays of college wine. Occasional smatterings of summer rain painted ethereal rainbows over the stone city and its flower beds overflowing with colourful blooms and towering hollyhocks (and contributed to the tear-inducing pollen count and dustings of small black beetles carried on the breeze). Once everyone had said their farewells, I stepped outside the college and got swept up in the tourist traffic, then attempted to swim against the surge to settle somewhere to reflect on the interesting & stimulating two days.