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Psychologists test societal acceptance of underground storage of CO2

How can we reduce CO2 emissions from industry? Leiden psychologists Emma Mors and Christine Boomsma are examining the public perception and acceptance around the capture and storage of carbon dioxide. This is part of the ALIGN CCUS European research programme.

The current cabinet regards the capture and storage of carbon dioxide as a promising technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions worldwide and to combat climate change. The plans, which are now being worked out in the new climate agreement focus mainly on capturing carbon dioxide in industry. When considering implementing this radical technique it is important to know what society thinks about it. Psychologists Emma ter Mors and Christine Boomsma are therefore charting the public perception and acceptance of CO2 capture and storage as part of a major European research programme. The programme started in 2017 and runs until 2020. 

The interdisciplinary EU ALIGN CCUS project has 34 partners and an overall budget of 23 million euros.

Acceptance by society is important

With Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS), carbon dioxide produced by industry can be captured, transported by pipeline and then stored permanently. The CO2 can be stored, for example, gas fields deep under the seabed that have been emptied. A small amount can also be reused, for example by horticulturalists. Before CCUS is implemented, it's not just a matter of ensuring that the technology is properly developed, Ter Mors explains. 'If society doesn't want the technology, it will be difficult to implement.' 

Appropriate communication

She is heading the interdisciplinary EU ALIGN CCUS project on how society perceives the implementation of CCUS. What do citizens think about this new storage method, what objections do they have and what are the psychological mechanisms behind these objections? 'If you know the answer to this, you can design a project or the communication around it in the most appropriate way.'   

Safety plays less of a role in the media

The researchers sound out citizens' opinions by means of questionnaires, interviews with relevant stakeholders and media analyses. Ter Mors and Boomsma have ben monitoring all the news about CCUS in national newspapers since August 2017. Boomsma: ‘We are half-way through the analysis and the safety of  carbon dioxide storage seems to be less of an issue than ten years ago, when CCUS projects were also being planned in the Netherlands.' The reports are mainly about the cabinet plans and about the usefulness of CCUS. 'It's now being talked about at a different level.' People seem to be questioning whether this technique may be at the cost of investments in new forms of sustainable energy.’

A fair division of costs and benefits

It is often the people living in the area who object to the implementation of new environmental technologies, Ter Mors explains. One frequent problem is that the project costs are often local and the benefits national or global. If a pipeline has to be laid somewhere, to transport carbon dioxide for example, it's the local residents that suffer the negative effects. The benefits - in this case, the environmental targets that are met - are mainly national. This  can give rise to feelings of unfairness and resistance to the project.


One way of restoring the balance is by offering local residents compensation, in the form of a financial allowance, for example. 'In places where environmental techniques like CCUS are being implemented, we are looking at what type of compensation works best, and why. The right type of compensation is important. And the compensation shouldn't be offered too early, but nor should it come too late. If we bear these kinds of factors in mind and listen to what local residents want, we can make compensation much more effective.' 

Text: Carin Röst
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