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COP26: Challenging myths about older people and climate change is crucial

in News

Climate change is perhaps the most global issue facing current and future generations and in November leaders and representatives from across the world will come together for the COP26 Conference in Glasgow, with the aim of agreeing a range of action to protect the environment.

We are all understandably concerned about climate change, which is already having an impact on older people’s health, well-being and ability to age well, and the next few weeks will be crucial in the fight to tackle climate change.

Unfortunately, as part of the huge amount of discussion and debate in the weeks ahead, we are likely to encounter a great deal of ageist rhetoric based on myths and misconceptions about older people and climate change, something that has become much more prominent in recent years as the climate crisis has progressed.

As highlighted in a recent report from Kings College London[1], common myths about older people and climate change – that older people are not concerned about it or its impact, for example, or are not prepared to take action to protect the environment – simply do not hold up to any kind of scrutiny.

The report found that there are almost identical levels of agreement across the generations that people are willing to make big changes to their own lifestyle to reduce the impact of climate change.

These findings are reflected in data from the National Survey for Wales, which shows that around 90% of people over 65 are concerned about climate change and that two-thirds of people over 65 think the government is doing too little to respond to climate change.[2], [3] The survey also highlights they ways that older people are changing their behaviour due to climate change – 40% of people over 65 said they had reduced the amount of energy they use at home, while 1 in 5 said they buy eco-friendly products.[4]

Furthermore, key older people’s organisations working across Wales and the UK, such as the Cymru Older People’s Alliance and National Pensioners Convention, have also called for action to tackle climate change, demonstrating the importance of these issues for their members.

It’s crucial that we challenge these myths and misconceptions, which pit younger and older generations against one another, as well as feeding into wider ageist narratives about older people that lead to discrimination. Given the scale of the issues we face across the globe, it is essential that we are united and that all generations work together to tackle climate change. 

That’s why throughout COP26 I’ll be raising awareness of the action older people are taking to tackle climate change, as well as highlighting evidence and research about the impact that climate change is having, and will continue to have, on older people.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been asking older people to share their stories and let me know about the action they are taking to tackle climate change and protect the environment, and it’s clear that many older people are passionate about saving the planet.

Responses show that older people throughout Wales are taking action every day to protect the environment –  through re-using and recycling, and reducing energy consumption – and many of those who responded are actively involved in environmental charities and organisations, such as Greenpeace, Extinction Rebellion and the Welsh Wildlife Trust.

This underlines the crucial role older people could be playing in mobilising and working with others within their communities to take action and influence the response of political leaders to the climate crisis. However, if ageist narratives relating to older people and climate change continue, there is a danger that older people – together with their knowledge, skills and passion – will be excluded from playing their part.

As highlighted above, climate change is already having an impact upon older people. Increasing levels of pollution caused by climate change, for example, can exacerbate health conditions that are more common amongst older people, such as COPD and asthma, and increase the risk of heart attacks.[5] Furthermore, periods of extreme temperatures caused by climate change – Wales had its first ever extreme heat warning during summer 2021 – also create particular health risks for older people, particularly those with heart issues, diabetes and other chronic health conditions.

Similarly, cold and poorly insulated housing, which we know contributes significantly to climate change, not only impacts on older people’s health directly, but also increases fuel costs, pushing older people into fuel poverty and potentially forcing them to make the choice of whether to ‘heat or eat’.

Without sufficient action, these issues, and the impact they have on older people’s health and well-being, will continue to grow. But by working together, recognising older people’s contribution and the contribution that people of all ages can play in driving and delivering action, we have the best possible chance of ending the threat that climate change presents to us all.


[2] Welsh Government. (2021) National Survey for Wales: results viewer. Available from:

[3] ibid

[4] ibid

[5][5] US Environmental Protection Agency. (2021) Climate Change and the Health of Older Adults. Available from:

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