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Where are the voices of older people in the climate change debate?

26 Nov 2009

On 7 December 2009, Copenhagen will host the United Nations debate on climate change.

It is important that the declarations or protocols that emerge from this conference include the views of groups of people already suffering, or who will suffer, the effects of climate change most severely.

These groups are the vulnerable and marginalised poor, rural populations. Yet missing from meetings, discussions and debates leading to Copenhagen have been the voices of older people, a group that forms a significant portion of the vulnerable rural poor in Africa.

A wealth of experience

Adding the voices of the older people to the climate change discussion will not only satisfy the requirements of inclusion, but will bring a wealth of experience in adapting to climatic changes. People have always adapted to a changing climate, and coping strategies exist in many communities.

HelpAge's scoping study carried out among older people in Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe has established that older people are aware of the changes in their environment. Older people remember rivers that are now just dry river beds, weather seasons that are no longer seasonal, crops that no longer yield as they used to. The research also found that communities knew how to conserve natural resources such as water, soils, trees and animals.

Co-existing with the environment

The Ogiyek community of Kenya, for instance, has lived in the now controversial Mau Forest area for years and have not damaged the environment. The older Ogiyek are sources of knowledge about how to co-exist with all aspects of the environment. Older people also have knowledge about drought tolerant crops and coping strategies, such as changing sowing times or adopting new water saving techniques.

The future of the climate change debate

In order to involve older people and gain from their experiences, these are just a few suggestion of what the Copenhagen process needs to consider doing:

  • Include older people in policy agendas and dialogues

  • Make climate change messages more accessible to older people

  • Research, document and share traditional knowledge on climate change.

Read more about HelpAge work on climate change.

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Author profile


Sarah Marzouk
Country: UK
Job title: Digital Communications

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These blogs are personal reflections and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelpAge International.