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The true cost of crime — in carbon footprints

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  • Crimes committed in England and Wales contributed over 4 million metric tonnes CO2e, equivalent to the carbon emissions of around 900,000 UK homes
  • Burglary is the worst offender, contributing 30% of the total crime carbon footprint, followed by criminal justice system services (21%)
  • However, reducing crime does not necessarily reduce carbon footprint, according to University of Surrey study

Recent research by the University of Surrey's Centre for Environmental Strategy has found that despite policy makers currently examining the economic and social impacts of crime, the environmental impacts have not, to date, been included.

The study, published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology, estimates the carbon footprint of crime. It was conducted by a UK-based research team led by an engineering doctorate student, Helen Skudder, in the Centre for Environmental Strategy at the University of Surrey.

The authors use a complex method of quantification–applying carbon emissions factors to the monetized costs of crime using environmentally-extended input-output analysis. This allowed them to estimate the carbon footprint of crime committed in England and Wales in 2011. They found it to be over 4 million metric tonne s CO2e, equivalent to the carbon emissions of around 900,000 UK homes.

Of the offence types considered, burglary resulted in the largest proportion of the total footprint (30%) due to large volume of offences and the carbon associated with replacing stolen or damaged goods. Criminal justice system services (policing, prisons and courts) also accounted for a large proportion of the total footprint (21% of all crime and 49% of police recorded offences).

The limitations to the findings are particularly interesting and predominantly result from the footprinting methodology. Although it is tempting to conclude from the research that crime reduction will automatically result in a reduction of carbon emissions, this is not necessarily the case, due to the rebound effect. That is, the study considered how money currently spent addressing crime might be spent in the absence of crime. By comparing the carbon emissions associated with this re-spending of the money with the carbon footprint of crime, it was found that the most likely rebound effect would be an increase in emissions of around 2%.

Author Helen Skudder, of the University of Surrey, said "Although there are limitations to the methodology, we've highlighted some interesting findings, such as the large proportion of the footprint which arises due to burglaries. Looking at burglary in more detail, we find that emissions not only arise from policing and the criminal justice system response to crime, but also that the carbon arising due to replacement of stolen items is significant. The analysis illustrates the complex ways that institutions in society and the associated economic activity shape the impact we have on our climate. We have shown that it is possible to take into account the environmental implications of crime alongside the social and economic costs, as part of crime prevention policy appraisals".

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The article, "Addressing the Carbon-Crime Blind Spot: A Carbon Footprint Approach" is freely downloadable here.

Media enquiries: Ashley Lovell, Media Relations Office at the University of Surrey, Tel: 01483 686141 or E-mail: [email protected]

Notes to Editors:

About the University of Surrey

The University of Surrey is one of the UK's leading professional, scientific and technological universities with a world-class research profile and a reputation for excellence in teaching. Ground-breaking research at the University is bringing direct benefit to all spheres of life – helping industry to maintain its competitive edge and creating improvements in the areas of health, medicine, space science, the environment, communications, defence and social policy. Programmes in science and technology have gained widespread recognition and it also boasts flourishing programmes in dance and music, social sciences, management and languages and law.

In addition to the campus on 150 hectares just outside Guildford, Surrey, the University also owns and runs the Surrey Research Park, which provides facilities for 110 companies employing 2,750 staff.

The University of Surrey was named University of the Year by the Times and Sunday Times, both overall and for 'Student Experience', and achieved a top-five ranking in the Guardian University Guide 2017.

For more information about the University and its work, visit http://www.surrey.ac.uk

Media Contact

Ashley Lovell
[email protected]
01-483-686-141
@UniOfSurrey

http://www.surrey.ac.uk

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