Posted on 28 November 2023
Academics from the Urban Institute at Heriot-Watt University, together with the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, say climate change is impacting the physical, social, and mental wellbeing of ageing populations, and warned there is now a pressing public health issue.
In their report, titled: Healthy Ageing in a Changing Climate, researchers identify a need for ‘actionable’ interventions to better support the delivery of inclusive, climate resilient age-friendly cities and communities.
Professor Ryan Woolrych is director of the Urban Institute at Heriot-Watt University and led the research. He said: “Climate change is having a profound impact on our ageing population who are often the most at risk from extreme weather.
"We urgently need to think creatively about how we develop interventions that can support older people before, during and after extreme weather events. Failing to act now risks further negative impacts on older people including increased mortality.”
The UK is home to more than 11 million people aged 65 and over, constituting almost 19% of the overall population.
This demographic is expected to grow to 13 million people by 2030, accounting for 22% of the population.
At the same time, climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of extreme weather events. This poses a significant challenge to the health and wellbeing of older people, particularly those who live in vulnerable locations or lack the physical, mental, social, and financial resources needed to avoid or minimise the effects of extreme weather.
Dr Gary Haq, a senior researcher from the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York, who collaborated on the project, said: “Our research has found there is a need for society to take a holistic approach to this issue to protect older people and ensure they can enjoy a better quality of life.
“We have an ageing population that brings with it certain health needs and what we know is that climate change is going to negatively impact this further unless we address these issues.”
Six key areas
Academics gathered opinions of more than 140 older adults, policymakers, and practitioners, across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales in 2022/23. They explored the factors that contribute to the resilience of older people to climate change, including heatwaves, flooding and storms.
The report highlights six areas for intervention, these are:
Professor Woolrych added: “We are now calling for a joined-up approach including local and national governments, to consider the physical, social and community aspects of ageing well in communities and how we can integrate this in a way that will provide the resources, amenities and supports for people.”
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The research has been funded by UK Research and Innovation. It comes as the UN prepares to hold its pivotal Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai from November 30 to December 12, 2023.
The annual conference is the world’s only multilateral decision-making forum on climate change with almost complete membership of every country in the world.