Older people: Witness to climate change

8 December 2009

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, Age Concern, Help the Aged and HelpAge International are calling for the voices of older people in developing countries to be heard in the debate.

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

"They 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, HelpAge special adviser who conducted research in Africa.

"HelpAge has been working with older people affected by climate change as far back as the late 1980s. In the Sahel, for example, older people said women were taking 10 hours to gather wood when it had previously only taken 10 minutes. Over the last twenty years this has just got worse.

"In countries as diverse as Bangladesh and Bolivia older people are frustrated by not having scientific knowledge to be able to understand why the climate is changing and what this may entail for future generations.  In all the consultations older people spoke of their feelings of being sidelined from the community work, debates and trainings on climate change adaptation. Our consultations revealed older people would like to both learn more, and share the skills and insights they have with younger generations and policy makers."

Mathew Cherian of HelpAge India believes that older people are already climate leaders and are leading their communities towards adaptive change.

"In India, many older women re-introduced the use of "nada chullah" (a smokeless stove)and biogas stoves which used non conventional energy, and conserved wood. The design was revived with appropriate technology activists. The same women are encouraging the use of traditional millets and drought resistant grain to improve water and fuel conservation."

Intensifying drought in Ethiopia

Wako Jaldesa is one such witness to climate change.

Wako is 96 years old. He lives in Miyo Woreda, Ethiopia. He has lived with droughts all his life but he is acutely aware of how the climate has been changing over recent times. He said: "The droughts have been intensifying over the last 20 years, and the climate is changing. Twenty years ago the pasture was much better and greener, but now as it gets drier the vegetation has changed to thorny bushes and less grazing land." Wako fears this current drought will kill his animals, again.

Sylvia Beales, Head of Strategic Alliances at HelpAge International says:

"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. Older people, already the fastest growing age group in the developing world, are already severely affected. They need income, health support and legal protection now. We must act urgently to ensure older people can contribute to make the world a safer place for their grandchildren." 

"Given that the number of people aged over 60 will outnumber children aged 14 and under by 2050, with the fastest growth in this age group occurring in the poorest countries of the developing world, weather-related insecurity for older people will increase".

What HelpAge recommends

We are 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:

All climate change programmes, including National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), should be designed to build up older people's resilience.

  • Strengthening health systems to respond to the health requirements of ageing populations, whose health needs will be exacerbated by harsher climatic and environmental conditions
  • Supporting older farmers in crop diversification, livestock, land retention and land use.
  • Older people should be included in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and capacity-building programmes.


Notes to Editors

HelpAge International is a global network of organisations helping older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so that they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. www.helpage.org.

For more information about our programmes and spokespeople contact Rosaleen Cunningham, Media Coordinator on +44 (0) 207 1487623 or rcunningham@helpage.org

Recent climate change-related photographs with case studies can be found at


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