Over 50s have the highest carbon footprint in the UK

Over 50s have the highest carbon footprint, yet are most concerned over climate change and are calling for stronger leadership from the Government to combat global warming, according to new research published today by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York.

The findings come in a report, Greening the Greys, the first analysis of the carbon footprint of the over 50s and their attitudes to climate change.

The report reveals that baby boomers, aged 50-64, have the highest carbon footprint of 13.52 tonnes per capita/year – 10-20 per cent higher than any other age group.

But the over 50s fear climate change and worry over the climate their grandchildren will inherit. They are motivated to take action but frustrated by the failure of the Government and business to provide stronger leadership to combat global warming.

The report combined a detailed carbon footprint analysis of the UK by age and household expenditure, together with an attitudinal survey of over 700 people aged 50+ together with five focus groups involving 50 people.

The carbon footprint was based upon an analysis of the products and services that over 50s use in their daily lives. The footprint analysis breaks down the UK’s 698 million tonnes of carbon dioxide associated with consumption into over 40 kinds of household expenditure categories. Using age specific expenditure data, it calculates the carbon footprint by age and spending on items such as holidays abroad, home heating and food.

The report shows that the baby boomers have a carbon footprint of 13.52 tonnes/capita per year compared with the average UK citizens of 11.81 tonnes. Carbon intensive activities, such as high car dependence, holidays abroad and eating out, are key factors contributing to the size of their footprint.

People aged 65 to 74 have a carbon footprint of 12.10 tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita/year. They also enjoy holidays abroad and car use but spend more on home heating.

Those aged 75+, have a lower carbon footprint of 11.10 tonnes but they have the highest climate impact per £ spent compared with other age groups because home heating, which is carbon intensive, represents 40 per cent of their carbon footprint.

The over 50s fear climate change and believe it is already happening. More than half the over 50s are fearful of the impacts of climate change, being particularly concerned about the impact on the UK climate, economy and weather. A high proportion (75 per cent) of the over 50s believe they are already experiencing the effects of a changing climate.

Their understanding of the full range of impacts of climate change is limited.
The over 50s’ understanding of climate change impacts is limited to changes in weather patterns with less concern and understanding of the effects on human health.

The over 50s are motivated to take action but are frustrated

The majority of the over 50s (80 per cent) feel that they should personally take action to combat climate change. However, many feel frustrated (69 per cent) with the barriers that prevent them from totally engaging in a low carbon lifestyle.

Over 50s believe government and business should provide stronger leadership to combat climate change

The majority of the over 50s (90 per cent) feel that the Government should provide stronger leadership in taking action to combat climate change.

Dr Gary Haq, researcher on lifestyle and climate change and lead author of the report, said:

“The Government is essentially pushing at an open door with regard to achieving a change in behaviour in the over 50s, and a move to a low carbon lifestyle. In order to close the gap between concern for climate change and the impact of current lifestyles, Government needs to take action to make a low carbon lifestyle an easier option not just for the over 50s, but for everyone”

The over 50s consistently identified barriers related to energy, travel and waste which prevented them from following a low carbon lifestyle. To remove these barriers, the report calls for:

– investment in increasing the energy efficiency of the UK housing stock, especially for those aged 70 plus

– reversal of the current trend which is for motoring costs to go down in real terms while public transport costs got up

– investment in high quality public transport systems including reductions in the cost of public transport

– introduction of a German style packaging and packaging waste tax to encourage manufacturers to reduce the amount of packaging.

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