In more than many ways, 2015 is ending on a positive note. The Millennium Development Goals that defined development in the last 15 years led to some remarkable achievements albeit at varying levels of successes.

helpage-international-logoBut most notable has been the obvious mainstreaming of most-at-risk groups to the centres of planning and development in all key decision-making discourses processes.

Two key significant things that come to mind on reflections include the sustainable development goals that came into effect on September 25 and the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

For the first time in over 20 years of UN negotiations, the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, or COP21, achieved a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change, with the goal of keeping global warming below 2°C. A total of 190 countries had already submitted nationally determined contributions by the time they gathered in Paris, which will determine whether and how the world implements the COP21 agreement and embarks on a path towards a low-carbon, climate- resilient future.

In both cases, world leaders agreed to new frameworks, albeit with lots of haggling, that would define global development paradigms in the immediate years ahead.

Looking at the entire processes that led to outcomes from the meetings in both cases, there was a strong urge to stem the tide of poverty and vulnerability of the poor of the poor.

The need to discuss the threat of climate change to development progress has been further reflected in the outcomes and frameworks from three other major conferences and summits of 2015: the Sustainable Development Goals, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (the outcome of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development) all of which strongly addressed the need to fight poverty by targeting financial and other resource allocations.

But more importantly, for organizations working in areas of the rights of older persons, the year 2015 has been a defining year.

For the first time in the history of global negotiations, older persons have been recognized as a stakeholder group within the Sendai Framework, and the Sustainable Development Goals include specific references to all ages and older people.

This was preceded by a successful open working group meeting in New York in July which had urged for a UN Convention on Older Persons.

The push to have older persons recognized in all global frameworks is as a result of facts that can no longer be hid, according to the UK-based HelpAge International, a global network that advocates for the rights of older people.

HelpAge International’s sustained campaigned and advocacy for the older people is convincing global leaders to understand that the world’s population is ageing. By 2050, over 21 per cent of the global population will be 60 or over. According to UNFPA, two-thirds of people aged 60 or over live in low- and middle-income countries where disasters are more likely to happen.

While climate change affects everyone, there is a growing body of evidence that it poses specific risks for older people. Evidence from the increasing hurricanes in Asia have shown that growing proportions of older people are increasingly exposed to climate change-related risks, especially in low- and middle-income countries, which are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

A recent position paper published by the HelpAge International during the COP21 urges that the implementation of the COP21 framework and climate-focused targets within the SDGs and Sendai must reflect the context of an ageing world.

Older people are more vulnerable to the effects of temperature extremes and have a much higher mortality risk in extreme weather events. The position paper showed that older people are at greater risk because of increased susceptibility to disease, reduced mobility and the effects of stresses on the food and water supply.

The organization called for a binding framework to limit carbon emissions and the resulting temperature increase to below 2°C is urgently needed to mitigate the most dangerous impacts of climate change. Even with such an agreement, climate change will continue to pose significant and specific risks for older people.

National climate change strategies must be inclusive of the capabilities, rights and vulnerabilities of older people to reflect the convergence of population ageing and climate change. The full participation of people of all ages in these strategies is essential to their success.

Social and economic factors may also increase the vulnerability of some older people. The combination of chronic health problems and social isolation in addition to more limited access to services, which are often concentrated among older people, can reduce their capacity to cope with climate-related stresses Minor conditions can quickly become major challenges that overwhelm an older person’s ability to cope.

Every older person will face different vulnerabilities to specific impacts of climate change, which may change over the life course. For example, a US study showed that people aged 85 or over are more likely to suffer negative health effects from climate change because of physical decline or frailty.

At the same time, every older person has a range of different capacities to cope with the impacts of climate change. Many older people play a valuable role in their families and communities, especially in crises.

Their experience can provide vital information on past climatic histories, hazard and disaster impacts, a community’s vulnerabilities and capacities, or socio-environmental relationships, and can be key to understanding the nature of climatic vulnerability.

It is therefore vital that climate mitigation and adaptation strategies in the foreseeable future need to be inclusive of older people to maximise these capacities in addition to addressing their rights and vulnerabilities.

To be successful, the national-level commitments resulting from COP21 must respond to the rights and needs of older people and other at-risk groups.


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