The global climate change crisis is an issue that affects all generations. The Cymru Older People’s Alliance (COPA) acknowledges that it is the biggest threat to our society. This Position Paper sets out COPA’s views on how action can be taken to combat climate change in Wales.
There is a perception that older generations are responsible for climate change because of higher consumption through their lifetimes. Younger people are also encouraged to perceive older people as apathetic to the issue. This intergenerational conflict runs contrary to studies showing that older people are concerned about the effects of climate change on future generations.
The effects of climate change are likely to impact older people to a greater extent. Air pollution, an increase in extreme weather events and restricted resources are likely to heighten vulnerability of older people, especially those living on fixed low incomes. The World Health Organisation projects that heat exposure could lead to an extra 38,000 deaths for older people worldwide in 2030.
The Environment (Wales) Act received Royal Assent in 2016 and sets out the Welsh Government’s programme to introduce legislation for the environment, including powers to combat climate change through decarbonisation.
What Do COPA Want to See Happen?
Long-term investment in sustainable housing must be given priority, as it will serve two purposes – a significant reduction in Wales’ carbon output and a decrease in those living in fuel poverty. New build social housing must be built to the highest environmental standards, older stock must be upgraded to meet low carbon emission standards and the Welsh Government must offer financial incentives to older people willing to adapt their homes with low carbon options.
Significant investment must be made in sustainable energy production. Wales has many natural resources that can be utilised as renewable energy sources, such as wind, water and tidal power. Again, this would not only reduce the country’s carbon emissions, but would serve to reduce the impact of fuel poverty on older people.
Improvements must be made to the public transport system. Lower fares, better integration of services, expanded infrastructure and more frequent services will encourage more use of the system and reduce emissions from cars. Investment must also be made to change to sustainable modes of transport.
Continued development of flood risk management strategies is vital. Many areas of Wales are high-risk and flooding has a devastating effect on older people and the communities in which they live.
Planning legislation for the built environment could be introduced to require green meeting spaces in new and established communities. This would improve physical and mental well-being for all generations.
Public education about the effects of climate change could be introduced using an intergenerational model. Legacy thinking is vital to change older people’s understanding of the impacts of climate change; intergenerational discourse could lead to action from all age groups on a personal level and in communities.
Implementation in Wales of the World Health Organisation Framework for Age Friendly Communities and in particular, its emphasis on the built environment, transport and housing would support policies to address climate change as well.
Involvement of older people’s groups at a local and national level in the debate about climate change and the environment should be increased and become more structured so that they can contribute and influence other older people on this issue.