Climate change is not a convincing argument for carbon capture and storage

Arguments about climate change are unpersuasive in the public debate surrounding Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). It is more persuasive to say that CCS is vital for industry, or that carbon dioxide is waste that needs to be cleaned up. Researchers from Utrecht University published this finding the scientific journal Environmental Science and Policy. The results are important as CCS is considered indispensable in the transition towards a sustainable society.

Public debate on CCS

All over the world CCS projects have been delayed or cancelled due to lack of public support. A prominent example is the Barendrecht project in the Netherlands that was cancelled in 2010. Innovation scientists from Utrecht University investigated which arguments were most persuasive in this debate. A representative sample of 920 respondents in the Netherlands was asked to classify pairs of arguments about CCS on persuasiveness. Half of the respondents were given pro arguments, the other half con arguments.

No support for climate change as an argument

“Climate issues are the most commonly used arguments for gaining support, but they fail to impress most citizens”, says researcher Frank van Rijnsoever. “It is better to direct the discussion towards the economic necessity of CCS and address the handling of waste products such as carbon dioxide.”

Con arguments are more persuasive

Con arguments turned out to be more persuasive than pro arguments, with the most persuasive argument being ‘It is better to avoid generating CO2 than to store the CO2’. “It is easier to convince people of the cons of a new technology than the pros”, says researcher Kevin Broecks. “Advocates often start the public debate at a disadvantage.”

Furthermore, groups of citizens emphasise different arguments. About 10% of the citizens focus strongly on arguments about local risks, such as suffocation, earthquakes and a decrease in the value of their houses. “This group is relatively small, but has a strong voice in these debates”, says Van Rijnsoever.

Public debate should be more appealing

The researchers hope to make the public debate on CCS more appealing. The research is mainly focussed on the support for CCS in general, and not on storage at specific locations. Their findings are partly applicable to other energy sources, such as wind energy.