Baby Boomers in the world's richest countries are responsible for a large fraction of greenhouse gas emissions, more than their parents, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change.
The research looked at the gas footprint of households across age groups in the 27 countries in the European Union, Norway, the United Kingdom, the US, Australia, and Japan between 2005 and 2015. All demographics have cut their annual emissions, but the people over 60 are the ones who cut less, so their overall contribution went from 25 percent of greenhouse gas emission to nearly 33 percent.
In that decade, people under 30 cut their annual emissions by 3.7 metric tons, the 30 to 44 group by 2.7, and the 45 to 59 by 2.2 metric tons. The over-60 have shown the smallest decline at 1.5 metric tons reduction. Back in 2005, the over-60 had lower emissions than people aged 30 to 59.
Not every country is the same. Seniors in Australia and the United States are the worst, with 21 metric tons per head in 2015. That’s almost double the European average. Luxembourg has the highest in Europe with 19 metric tons. In Japan, older people in 2015 were responsible for 50 percent of emissions.
"The post-war 'baby boomer' generation are the new elderly. They have different consumption patterns than the 'quiet generation' that was born in the period 1928-1945. Today's seniors spend more money on houses, energy consumption and food," senior author professor Edgar Hertwich, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, said in a statement.
"Older people used to be thrifty. The generation that experienced World War II was careful about how they used resources. The 'new elderly' are different."
This shift suggests that governments need to do more when it comes to local mitigation, understanding the needs and habits of senior people, and finding ways to decrease their greenhouse gas consumption. While younger groups’ emissions might happen in other countries due to consuming more imported goods, the elderly impact is more within their country’s boundaries.
"Income shrinks in retirement, but seniors in developed countries have accumulated value, primarily in housing. A lot of them have seen a large increase in the value of their property. The elderly are able to maintain their high consumption through their wealth. This happens especially in carbon-intensive areas like energy. An increasing proportion of this age group live alone. This isn't the case in all countries, but it reflects the overall picture," added lead author Heran Zheng, a postdoctoral fellow at NTNU.
To reduce the impact of the unfolding climate crisis, more needs to be done.