Policy, regulation and public perception

 

As well as the technical aspects of CCS, there are many important socio-economical implications, including policy, regulation and public perception

Developing and deploying CCS brings many challenges beyond the technical. Understanding socio-technical innovation processes requires interdisciplinary studies drawing on natural science and engineering, as well as social science, economics, law, etc.  These can then shed light on many relevant practical problems for policy makers, industry and other interested stakeholders.

For example, we can learn from historical examples about the speed with which technologies can be scaled up and deployed.  That was not only determined by factors internal to the technologies themselves, but also by how the relevant expertise was transferred and disseminated between sectors, countries and organisations, as well as governmental influences, like policy.

The establishment of the knowledge needed – and that knowledge exchange – about the performance and impacts of CCS technologies can be a complicated process, especially when a technology becomes politicised. For the societal acceptance and support for CCS, it is also crucial to understand how the general public, local communities, NGOs and other groups perceive the technology.

Policy

Government policy is key to the success of CCS deployment.  Previous UK CCS policy focused on funding competitions – the first of which was launched in 2007 and cancelled in 2011, with the second launched in 2012 and cancelled in 2015.  This not only removed the vital government finance and support necessary to turn R&D into operational CCS plants, but also undermined investor (and other stakeholder) confidence.

The Government has since reaffirmed its commitment to CCS:

“Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS) is one technology which the Government sees playing an essential role to achieving this target [net zero emissions by 2050]. The Climate Change Committee [the UK’s independent advisor on climate change] describes Carbon Capture and Storage as a necessity, not an option, to achieving net zero. CCUS will help decarbonise our hardest to reach industrial sectors, provide low carbon power and a pathway to negative emissions.” (Public Dialogue report, 2019)

In March 2023, the Government announced up to £20 billion to support the initial deployment of CCS.  This was followed, in December 2023, by them setting out their vision for a new competitive UK carbon capture, usage and storage market by 2035 – https://www.gov.uk/government/news/new-vision-to-create-competitive-carbon-capture-market-follows-unprecedented-20-billion-investment

The Government undertook an important piece of public perception work in 2021, with a public dialogue to understand citizens’ attitudes towards Carbon Capture, Usage and Storage (CCUS). Public dialogues provide in-depth insight into citizens’ views, concerns and aspirations on issues.  Ten key criteria for implementation were identified, with safety the most important.

From “Carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS): public dialogue” – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/carbon-capture-usage-and-storage-ccus-public-dialogue

 

Public perception

For the public to accept and support CCS, they first need to understand what it is.  Unfortunately, there a vast amount of mis/disinformation in the public domain, alongside media bias when writing about CCS.

Trust is a key obstacle in public perception – who can the public trust to tell them the “truth” about CCS?  The Edelman Trust Barometer 2024 shows that governments (in general, globally) are less trusted than ever, as are journalists.  In contrast, people have greater trust in scientists and experts, and an expectation that they should take the lead on the implementation of innovation.  At the UKCCSRC, through our events and open access resources, we bring together a community of expert academics with government, regulators and industry, to share knowledge and encourage collaboration.  We also fund research in all areas of CCS, which support the Government’s net-zero objectives.

In order to have their trust earned or kept, people want their concerns heard and the opportunity to ask questions.  People also want to know that innovation will create a better future. Businesses are still the most trusted to introduce innovation into society, but with an emphasis on partnering with government (and informed by transparent and clearly communicated science).

For CCS to succeed, it needs to establish a strong Social Licence to Operate (SLO).  A SLO is defined as the acceptance or approval by local communities and stakeholders of an activity or project.  For CCS specifically, this means a high level of ongoing support from different stakeholders on the need for, and value of, decarbonisation technologies.

Deeper dive:

“Public perceptions of CCS and decarbonisation” parallel session from the UKCCSRC Spring 2023 Conference (recording and presentations available).  Speakers were David Reiner (University of Cambridge), Diarmaid Clery (University of Manchester) and Emily Cox (Universities of Cardiff and of Oxford)

CCS industrial clusters: Building a social license to operate (2022) – Clair Gough and Sarah Mander

 

Regulation

Safety is often people’s biggest concern with CCS, which needs to be addressed by well-researched and tested safety measures and good regulation.  Research has shown that CO2 can be safely stored underground for millions of years.  See the Carbon Storage explainer page for UKCCSRC Flexible Funding projects addressing CCS safety.

Organisations like the Environment Agency and Natural Resources Wales are actively working in the area of CCS regulation.  However, there is a difficult “chicken and egg” situation, where regulations cannot be put in place until projects exist, and projects cannot move forward until regulations are in place.

Deeper dive:

Regulating UK CCS deployment – experience to date and research needs” (webinar recorded on 6th July 2023; speakers were John Barraclough and Gwenda McIntyre (EA), Jeremy Walters and David Poole (NRW), and Simon Gant and Martin Wayland (Health & Safety Executive)).

 

Just transition

Another important concern for stakeholders is employment.  Industries that have high emissions – e.g. oil and gas, cement, steel – employ hundreds of thousands of people.  If we just “stopped” them then all those people would have no jobs (not to mention no electricity, medicines, etc.).

Decarbonising these industries with CCS can help ensure a “just transition”, where jobs are protected and even increased.

Deeper dive:

CCS skills and jobs for a just transition” (webinar recorded on 9th June 2022; speakers were Pauline Anderson (University of Strathclyde), Olivia Powis (CCSA), Felicity Morris (bp) and Leslie Mabon (The Open University)).

Exploring wage-driven employment displacement in a supply constrained labour market and the impacts on integrating CCUS into the UK economy” – Professor Karen Turner, University of Strathclyde (Flexible Funding 2022 project)

TERC amine capture plant

Carbon Capture

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Transportation

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Carbon Storage