Criminology project gains momentum

03 June 2013

Centre of CriminologyStanding from left to right: Tom Herbstein, Antonia Sutter, Prof Clifford Shearing, Saul Roux, Dr Samantha Petersen, Maria Honig, Dr Lorena Pasquini and Oluwole Akinyeye. Sitting/kneeling from left to right: Teresie Hommersand, Vivienne Toleni, Emma Smith and Wambere Nyagah. Absent: Dr Deon Nel, Cameron Holley and Prof Jan Froestad.

The Centre of Criminology was recently awarded a three-year National Research Foundation grant in support of its research programme.

The centre's programme is led jointly by its director, Professor Clifford Shearing, and Dr Deon Nel, a research associate at UCT's Department of Public Law and the Head of Biodiversity at WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) South Africa.

The grant is part of a broader government programme, titled the Fulcrum Institutions and Sustainability Programme, that is investigating the responses of pivotal institutions – in the public, private and civil society sectors – to the widespread recognition that changes to earth systems are presenting significant environmental risks. These include, for example, flooding, fire and storm surges that are increasingly being linked to shifts in global climate systems.

The programme is organised into three principal components, each focusing on a different set of 'fulcrum' institutions.

Dr Lorena Pasquini, a postdoctoral fellow, leads the governmental component, which is focused at the municipal level. She is exploring the barriers and opportunities that local governments face as they adapt to environmental change.

According to Pasquini, "Municipalities are the level of government that is often closest to the ground with respect to these changes. How they respond is particularly significant in shaping society's adaptive and mitigative strategies."

Dr Samantha Petersen, a postdoctoral fellow on secondment from WWF, heads the programme's resource industries component. Petersen highlights how resource industries play a crucial role in shaping society's impacts on earth systems through their processes of extraction, production and waste.

This component is currently focusing on commercial fisheries and the wine industry. One of the issues being explored is the conditions under which companies, though in a competitive business environment, can work together to pursue shared values, such as preserving the value of a common resource.

The programme's insurance and financial component is led by Tom Herbstein, a doctoral candidate at the Centre of Criminology. He explains how the insurance industry bears many of the costs associated with environmental disasters (such as flooding), while society's broader impact on the environment is often significantly influenced by the industry's investment and development decisions.

As with the other components, a major focus of this research is how influential institutions are responding to risks associated with environmental security – and insecurity – and how these institutions might act to promote more sustainable economies and lifestyles in the future.

As environmental changes fundamentally shift the global risk landscape, the way this landscape is governed will have profound consequences for the sustainability of earth's systems and the future security of people who depend upon them, maintains Shearing.

"Understanding and influencing these governance processes is, and will increasingly become, a vital concern for any society, and most certainly South Africa, as the 21st century unfolds," he adds.

This programme forms part of the NRF DST Global Change, Society and Sustainability Initiative.

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