Over-60s in the firing line for greenhouse gas emissions

Ah, today’s generation – those young whippersnappers always on their smartphones and other devices. Is it any wonder the world’s carbon emissions are so high with these millennials using so much energy?

Well, wait just a minute there, Mr or Ms Boomer. That might be a common narrative, and it might feel like it’s true, but the evidence says otherwise. In fact, the latest research indicates that it’s those of us in the over-60 age group – baby boomers – who are responsible for more carbon emissions than any other age group.

What’s worse, Australia’s over-60s are among the worst in the world when it comes to global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Read: Is your retirement nest egg at risk from climate change?

A new study, Ageing society in developed countries challenges carbon mitigation, published in Nature, reveals that in 2015, over 60s accounted for 32.7 per cent of the world’s GHG emissions – almost the same as the 45 to 59-year-old group (33.4 per cent) and more than the 30-44 years and under-30 groups (25.8 per cent and 8.1 per cent respectively).

This represents a big shift from just 10 years earlier, with the 2005 percentage for over-60s at 25.2. Five years later, the 2010 figure was at 28.9 per cent and climbing.

On the surface, Japan’s over-60s appear to be the worst offenders, accounting for more than half – 51 per cent – of the country’s GHG emissions. But raw percentage figures can be deceiving. In Australia, although the over-60s account for 27 per cent of the country’s emissions, that 27 per cent is around 20.8 metric tonnes per capita. Japan’s 51 per cent equates to less than one-third that amount.

Read: Energy source that’s on climate change lobbyists’ hit list

In terms of raw metric tonne figures on a per capita basis, the US and Australia are by far the worst offenders of the 32 developed countries included in the survey.

So, what’s driving the increase in the size of the over-60s’ carbon footprint? The most obvious answer is that we are living longer, so there are more of us in that age group. But on top of that, according to the study, as we age, we tend to stay home more.

What’s more, many over-60s in Western countries who are staying at home, are doing so in large houses.

Heran Zheng, a postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and the lead author of the research paper, believes this is an area for potential improvement.

Read: Simple ways to cut your carbon emissions

“The consumption habits of seniors are more rigid. For example, it would be an advantage if more people moved to smaller homes once the kids moved out,” he says. “Hopefully more senior-friendly housing communities, transport systems and infrastructure can be built.”

COTA Australia has a clear position on climate change and its potential effects (such as higher temperatures and longer, more significant heat waves) on the elderly in Australia, and particularly on low-income earners. It says “all Australian governments should consider climate change issues and policy responses in the context of an ageing population to ensure a safe, secure, equitable and sustainable future”.

Based on the report in Nature, that consideration should include strategies for reducing the GHG emissions of our older age group.

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Written by Andrew Gigacz

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