Adapting to climate change today will protect older people from natural disasters, droughts and famine tomorrow, says HelpAge International.
“While climate change affects everyone, there is growing evidence that it poses specific risks for older people”, said Clodagh Byrne, Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience Adviser at HelpAge International.
“Older people are more vulnerable to the effects of extreme temperatures and have a significantly higher risk of dying in extreme weather events.”
A series of recommendations to protect older people from climate change are set out in HelpAge International’s latest paper Climate Change in an Ageing World, published today (Wednesday 9 December).
“Making use of older farmers’ knowledge on resilient agriculture, prioritising access to clean and sustainable energy, supporting inclusive disaster risk reduction strategies to prepare for extreme weather events and providing age specific medical support during heatwaves is going to be essential to mitigate the effects of climate change on older people”, said Byrne.
Today, there are 901 million people over 60, and the number is predicted to reach 1.4 billion by 2030, with three-quarters in developing countries.
Older people are among those who bear the brunt of extreme weather because they are often socially isolated and less mobile - 38,000 older people are projected to die from heat exposure by 2030.
"Ten years ago, there was always somewhere to go to for better pasture”, said Mohamed, 60, a farmer from the Marothiley district in Kenya.
"Meat and milk all used to be available. This drought is different. Now there are no pastures, no water and no rain.
"I'm 60 and I’ve never seen such drought. I've given my remaining livestock to my relatives to look after for me. The rest have died due to the drought. Now I survive on the relief food we’ve been receiving every two months - a 10kg bag of maize, 0.5kg of cooking oil and a 2kg bag of beans."
A binding framework to limit carbon emissions and the resulting temperature increase to below 2°C is needed to mitigate the most dangerous impacts of climate change.
Even with such an agreement, climate change will continue to pose significant risks for older and other vulnerable people. It's vital that strategies supporting adaptation are prioritised and implemented by the COP21 signatories.
The paper concludes that it’s vital for world leaders to come to an agreement and that strategies to mitigate and adapt to a changing climate must take into account our ageing population and their knowledge, rights and needs.
Without strong commitments to include older people and other vulnerable groups in decision making and the development of targeted strategies to adapt to a changing climate, they will be further marginalised and pushed to the edge of safety and survival. The full participation of people of all ages in these strategies is essential to their success.
"The conference is an unprecedented opportunity to move towards a resilient, low-carbon world and protect the wellbeing of people of all ages, but any effective climate change framework must respond to the rights and vulnerabilities of older people to reflect the convergence of population ageing and climate change," added Byrne.
Notes to editors
The COP21 climate change conference began on 30 November and takes place until 11 December, 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; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Skype: sarah.gillam.hai
Ed Knight, Media Intern, HelpAge International, tel: + 44 (0) 20 7148 7606; email: email@example.com; 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. www.helpage.org
To Read more about HelpAge International’s work on climate change and disaster risk reduction, please visit: www.helpage.org/what-we-do/climate-change/
 Source: UNDESA Population Division, World population prospects: the 2015 revision, DVD Edition, 2015
 WHO, Edited by Hales S, Kovats S, Lloyd S and Campbell-Lendrum D, Quantitative risk assessment of the effects of climate change on selected causes of death, 2030s and 2050s, World Health Organization, 2014, p.1