Paris climate conference: first week sees positive commitments but neglects older people, says HelpAge International

The first week of COP21, the Paris climate change conference, is a welcome step forward, but the wellbeing of older people needs specific focus, says HelpAge International.

Initiatives and commitments to help protect the most vulnerable from climate change were announced, having the potential to mitigate the impact of climate change on older people, who often bear the brunt of its effects. However, acknowledgement of their specific vulnerabilities was unfortunately missing.

"Today, there are 901 million people over 60, predicted to reach 1.4 billion by 2030[1], with nearly three-quarters living in developing countries," said Clodagh Byrne, Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Adviser at HelpAge International.

"Older people are among those who suffer the most from the impacts of climate change due to the prevalence of health conditions, social isolation and limited mobility."

The announcement of the Paris Pact on Water and Climate Change Adaptation on Wednesday pledges a collection of governments, almost 290 river basin organisations, and business and civil society groups to work towards making water systems more resilient to climate change.

Water insecurity is particularly hard on older people. They’re more susceptible to dehydration, infection and disease. Climate change is expected to reduce water quality through increased temperatures, pollution and disruption of treatment facilities, and the resulting health effects will be worse for older people.

Poorer older people suffer due to a combination of factors including distance to or difficult-to-access water distribution points, the costs involved and non-age friendly latrines.

Resilience initiatives were also announced on Wednesday, amounting to $1 billion dollars pledged to protect the most vulnerable from climate change. Commitments include: early warning systems for over 50 of the least developed countries and small island states, access to insurance to 400 million vulnerable people in five years, and a UN initiative to protect 634 million people living in risk-prone coastal areas and those living in areas at risk from droughts and floods.

The initiatives proposed are a step in the right direction but, for an effective response, older people’s needs must be singled out, with targeted measures to address them.

Resilient agricultural initiatives to improve food security and protect the long-term livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers while reducing greenhouse gas emissions were announced during the Lima-Paris Action Agenda Focus on Agriculture event.

An increasing proportion of smallholder farmers are older people. Climate change is expected to adversely affect these people through pest and disease outbreaks, increased frequency and severity of droughts and floods, and increased likelihood of poor yields, crop failure and livestock mortality[2].

Going forward, the initiatives must make use of older people's knowledge and experience of farming techniques to increase production and reduce waste while minimising environmental damage. Their years of experience of weather patterns can make a huge contribution to mitigating the impacts of a changing, less predictable climate[3].

"HelpAge International welcomes the commitments made at the COP21 conference as a positive step for the future but there’s work to be done," said Byrne.

"Climate change vulnerabilities vary depending on location, age and income. We need a strong framework and strong national commitments to adaptation and mitigation if we’re to minimise the impact we’re already seeing on the most vulnerable and appropriately target their specific needs."


Notes to editors

The COP21 climate change conference began on November 30 and takes place until December 11, providing a once-in-a-generation opportunity to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change. At the UNGA in September, world leaders committed to a new set of Sustainable Development Goals. Now leaders face their first test on whether they are serious about making these goals a reality.

International media contacts: Sarah Gillam, Media Relations Manager, HelpAge International, tel: +44 (0) 20 7148 7623; mobile: + 44 (0) 7713 567 624;; Skype: sarah.gillam.hai

Ed Knight, Media Intern, HelpAge International, tel: + 44 (0) 20 7148 7606;; Skype: edward.knight.hai

Available for interview: Clodagh Byrne, Disaster Risk Reduction & Resilience Adviser.

Mostafizur Rahman, Global Climate Change and Disaster Risk Reduction Policy Coordinator.

HelpAge International helps older people claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty, so they can lead dignified, secure, active and healthy lives. 

Read more about HelpAge International’s work on climate change and disaster risk reduction.

Twitter: @helpage
Facebook: HelpAge International

[1] Source: UNDESA Population Division, World population prospects: the 2015 revision, DVD Edition, 2015

[2]   Morton JF, The impacts of climate change on smallholder and subsistence agriculture. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci, 2007

[3] Gorman M, Older women, older farmers – the hidden face of agriculture, HelpAge Briefing Paper 2012.


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