The last decade has been the warmest ever recorded. Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere rose to new records.(1; 2) Weather patterns are changing, sea levels are rising, and extreme weather events are becoming more common (such as droughts, fires and floods).
Climate change is affecting everyone on the planet, but research evidence shows that it is disproportionately affecting older adults.(3; 4) Many older adults live in urban and densely populated areas and are likely to be increasingly affected by climate stressors, such as hurricanes, droughts, floods, infectious disease, air pollution, and rising summer temperatures. They may also have chronic health conditions (diabetes, respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases), as well as other social conditions (social isolation, limited income and poor housing) that put them at greater risk.(3; 4)
For some, climate change seems inevitable. But recent events have shown that it may be possible to change the course of climate change.
Leveraging COVID-19 recovery plans to tackle climate change
The COVID-19 pandemic has been marked by a massive loss of human lives, as well as personal tragedies due to the social and economic impact of COVID-19. However, the pandemic has enabled us to observe a dramatic change in greenhouse gas emissions, which are expected to drop about 6% in 2020 due to travel bans and economic slowdowns.(5) This significant improvement may only be temporary if we go back to our normal ways, but local, national and international leaders are advocating for changes.(6)
As countries move toward rebuilding their economies after COVID-19, their recovery plans can shape a new path towards greener, healthier and stronger economies. The head of the United Nations Environment Programme, Inger Andersen, indicated that the current COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for “a profound, systemic shift to a more sustainable economy that works for both people and the planet.”(7) Thus, national economic plans could help us recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, while at the same time posing positive climate actions.
Older adults are “an untapped, renewable resource on climate action”.(8) Many are calling to tap into the ‘gray power’ to support intergenerational climate action.(8) Indeed, older adults can play several meaningful roles:
Advocating for positive climate actions in the recovery plans (for example, using taxpayers’ money to create green jobs and inclusive growth when rescuing businesses and other actions proposed by the United Nations);
Raising awareness about climate change as a pressing global issue; and
Encouraging individuals to take simple actions (the United Nations’ ActNow campaign lists 10 actions from taking shorter showers to buying local produce).
Older adults can be empowered to bring about change and leave a greener and healthier legacy for future generations.(8)