Jane Finerty's report from the recent conference of the same name.
York 26th March 2008
The event was organised in partnership with the Yorkshire and Humber Assembly, Help the Aged and the Policy Research Institute on Ageing and Ethnicity (PRIAE), The aim was to agree on a range of proposed policy recommendations for national and regional policy makers and older people's bodies
Growing evidence suggests that the effects of climate change are likely to be greater for the elderly. The conference speakers covered how climate change could impact on an aging population across the UK and globally and the need to ‘adapt' to climate change.
Unpredictable weather systems and the chaos that storms, flooding and heat waves bring will be particularly challenging to cope with and older people's ability to do so will be further affected by their health, wealth and their community and social networks.
The over 50s are expected to make up 40% of the UK population by 2031 and putting additional pressure on housing, social care and the economy as whole
The research on the lifestyles and attitudes of the over 50s to climate issues attracted a lot of media interest on the day. The age-related carbon footprint of the ‘baby boomers' was an interesting perspective on how lifestyle choices and wealth can pose just as many challenges for society as poverty can. This group consists of some of the wealthier in society who can afford foreign travel and enjoy a high level of consumption which in turn contributes to the causes of climate change.
A 2007 analysis showed that on average baby boomers have a carbon footprint of 13.5 tonnes and emit 1.5 to 2.5 tonnes more CO2 per year than any other age group compared with the UK average of 12 tonnes. Whilst this age group were highlighted as a part of the overall problem they may also be casualties of climate change but ideally a potentially a powerful voice to lobby and campaign for action
Those aged 65+ are more likely than others to feel hopeful and positive about climate change, although at the same time be most likely to feel neither they personally, nor business or the Government, can influence preventing climate change.
Similarities between the oldest and youngest age groups around climate change showed the youngest age group less concerned than 25-64s and unlikely to agree that the world's climate is changing and that they, are already affected by climate change.
How communities will need to transform to support growing numbers of elderly when considering the growth in single households was something that ran through all the feedback from the conference delegates. Regaining a sense of community and sharing resources were seen as a positive way to adapt to climate change
‘Climate Vulnerability and the capacity to deal emotionally with crisis caused by extremes in temperatures, flooding and all severe weather conditions are further compounded in old age. Overwhelmed services having to deal with an increasingly elderly population in times of crisis will become a problem as seen in the summer floods in 2007. The elderly are physically, financially and emotionally less resilient to dealing with insecurity and heightened exposure to threats caused by a changing climate reducing capacity for coping independently.
Sensitivity to climate will depend on income, health, family structures and social networks making the poorer over 50s even more vulnerable. Greater health and environmental risks, food and water security and population migration will all be growing issues
The conference attendees discussed the key issues in 4 break-out sessions and gained consensus on a list of recommendations that need to be taken forward to achieve change. These will be published in the workshop report in late April/early May and will be sent to key policy makers.