Older people: Witness to climate change


Climate change and global ageing are two of the biggest issues facing humanity this century, yet explicit links between the two are rarely made.

As world leaders prepare to negotiate a successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen, HelpAge International is calling for the voices of older people in developing countries to be heard in the debate.

Voices of experience

Interviews carried out by HelpAge with older people in nine countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have revealed that older people are already affected by the changing climate.

They are using traditional adaptation and mitigation techniques to try to cope with these changes. However they are frustrated that they are not more actively involved in climate change policy debates and adaptation initiatives.

The findings of the interviews are published in the report, Witness to climate change: Learning from older people`s experience.

Unique insights

"Older people have unique insights into tackling climate change in their communities and want to be included in international, national and community debates on climate change," says Tavengwa Nhongo, Special Adviser to HelpAge, who conducted the research.

Sylvia Beales, Director of Strategic Partnerships at HelpAge International expands:

"HelpAge has been working with older people who were already witnessing the effects of climate change in the late 1980s.

"Back then in the Sahel, for example, older people described how women were taking 10 hours to gather wood where it previously took 10 minutes. Over the last twenty years this has just intensified further for vulnerable communities". 

"Current opinion is that even if we are successful in limiting the increase in global temperature to 2˚C - the call for the climate change deal - significant adaptation will be needed."

Catastrophic impact

The estimated impact of a rise of 2˚C could result in:

  • 4 billion people experiencing water shortages
  • 375 million people hit by climate-related disasters, by as early as 2015
  • rising temperatures could result in up to a 28% increase in exposure to malaria in Africa alone.

For the growing numbers of the over 60s in the poorest countries, the impacts are already catastrophic.

The number of people aged over 60 will outnumber children aged 14 and under by 2050. The fastest growth in this age group will occur in the poorest countries of the developing world.

As a result, even more older people will be vulnerable to hazard through drought, flood, loss of land, income and livestock.

Age-friendly agenda

HelpAge International is calling on policy makers to implement a package of "age-friendly" measures to enable older people to be included in adaptation measures within the "post-Copenhagen" agenda.

These include implementing and extending social protection schemes for older people and their dependants, and helping older farmers to adapt to climate change.

Read our climate change agenda for action.

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