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Using capacity-building for robust community consultation

What is capacity building? The Global CCS Institute defines it as building the awareness, understanding, knowledge and ultimately skills required to progress CCS in a country context. However the capacity building approach can also be usefully applied to communities engaging with CCS projects.

Building capacity involves the development of awareness, skills, knowledge, motivation, commitment and confidence. Consequently, capacity building initiatives aim to strengthen the knowledge base, competence, resources, networks, infrastructure and other forms of support for individuals, communities and organisations. This particularly is applied in development and natural resource management where capacity building programs are integrated with public participation aimed at developing sustainable communities. Here, practitioners go beyond the traditional, top-down approach of community engagement to enhance the skills and knowledge of community members through training and the provision of technical advice. The aim is to meaningfully engage the community in all aspects of the project, from planning to on-ground actions.

There are times within a CCS community engagement context where it might be appropriate to include a capacity building strategy. This is because local communities, considering a proposed CCS project, need to quickly become familiar with various complicated technological and scientific concepts. This is likely to begin with how greenhouse gas emission impact on the climate, followed by how oil and gas technologies operate and the science of geological sequestration: how carbon dioxide is sequestered in rocks deep beneath the surface to achieve long-term storage.

A capacity building strategy might comprise of the supply of resources and training and possibly independent experts to facilitate a community’s acquisition of knowledge about the CCS project. This might include providing access to computers and high-speed internet connections, training in the use of computer programs such as Geographic Information Systems to enable meaningful participation.

Capacity building may have assisted the farmers involved with the Otway project to develop better negotiation skills regarding land access agreements. The farmers were unaware of just how much the seismic testing was going to affect their farm management practices. Had they been both better informed about CCS science, which could have informed the terms on which land access was negotiated, a more satisfactory outcome may have been reached. Instead, farmers became frustrated at the process and the proponent’s reputation was damaged.

The advantages of capacity building for the community are many and go far beyond the monetary compensation traditionally offered by proponents. Done well, capacity building will help develop sustainable communities. Education and training, for example, will increase the skills, or human capital, of individual community members who can then contribute to the wider community in a range of economic, business or social activities, thus building sustainability.

Capacity building has advantages for a CCS community proponent as well. It will build trust and enhance the reputation of the proponent, who will be seen as investing in the long-term growth and development of a host community, which is being asked to cooperate on a major, new infrastructure project. Capacity building may also help build confidence in the project by increasing the understanding about CCS science and technology, addressing doubts and misconceptions through a lack of information; and by providing a platform for more in-depth and ongoing community engagement.

The result is a more highly engaged community that is less likely to experience consultation fatigue; and more likely to participate in informed and responsible discussion about their local CCS project.

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