Executive summary

Low emission energy technologies have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially over the coming decades. However, without community support the implementation of such technologies could be severely hampered. The CSIRO’s Science into Society Group, in conjunction with the Western Australia Department of Mines and Petroleum, conducted a workshop in Harvey, Western Australia in February 2011.

The aims of the workshop were to: a) assess the public’s knowledge and attitudes towards climate change science and low emissions energy technologies, particularly CCS; b) establish a framework for future public participation in studies and evaluation of the Collie Hub concept; and c) explore the effectiveness of a participatory one-day workshop process to enable more informed dialogue about the issues and risks regarding climate change science and energy technology options.

In total, 32 people participated in this workshop. Participants were drawn from a list of identified stakeholders combined with members of the general public, who were recruited via advertising in local newspapers and announcements on local radio. The workshop was co-ordinated by a lead facilitator and consisted of plenary and small round table discussion time. Information was presented on climate change and low emission energy sources and related technologies, followed by a presentation on CCS and the Collie Hub project.

To track changes in knowledge and attitudes, participants completed a series of questionnaires before, during and after the workshop. The questionnaires also collected demographic data and information about participants’ environmental orientation. Small group discussion was recorded in order to collect qualitative data.

The workshop resulted in a number of significant improvements in participants’ self-rated knowledge of climate change and related issues. The vast majority of participants expressed agreement that climate change was an important issue to Australia. Participants’ self-rated knowledge of 4 out of the 12 energy sources and related technologies discussed in the workshop was significantly improved. Levels of support for the range of energy sources and technologies varied greatly. However, participants tended to be more supportive of renewable energy.

In relation to CCS there were significant changes in the mean level of knowledge and mean funding priority rating. Attitudes towards CCS also shifted to become more supportive; however, this was not statistically significant. These results reflect the prominence of CCS as a presentation topic and subject of discussion during the workshop. Participant feedback indicated there were concerns about the potential risks and effectiveness of CCS technology. Participants were also interested in the potential for carbon dioxide to be used as a resource.

Key messages that arose from the discussions about climate change and low-emission energy sources and related technologies included:

  • acknowledgment that urgent action is required;
  • the belief that strong leadership would be critical;
  • recognition that policy changes will be needed if any action on climate is to be achieved;
  • the importance of trust and transparency in process;
  • a recognition that individuals wanted to make a difference but require guidance on what their role might be;
  • the significance of culture and lifestyle for preferred action choices, especially when contrasting the developed and developing world;
  • the importance of having accurate information to raise awareness of the issues; and
  • a list of technology concerns, particularly in relation to CCS.