Climate change can significantly affect health and well-being of the most vulnerable groups: especially seniors and people in need. Facing these challenges Ministry of Family and Social Policy is currently implementing new programs and providing support for those who might be negatively affected by sudden changes caused by pandemics, aging of society and new climatological phenomena

Climate is the most important factor affecting all living organisms in all aspects of their lives. For millions of years it was undergoing constant changes. Originally those changes happened spontaneously but currently it is maintained that mankind contributes substantially to climate anomalies. Simultaneously it is us – the people, who can have real influence on the environment we live in, which in consequence impacts ourselves and the future generations.”Not only do we inherit the environment after our parents, but we also lend it from future generations – or children and grandchildren. Therefore we should leave the world in the best possible condition”, says Professor Zbigniew W. Kundzewicz[1]

Climate change is therefore a global problem, impacting all societies and countries of the world. Consequently recognition of climate change as a priority issue and the cooperation in this field on an international level are crucial. Climate change undoubtedly has significant impact on the health and even life of mankind. Directly – by way of more and more frequently occurring extreme weather phenomena, but also indirectly – through spreading of infectious diseases, contamination of water and air.

It was the COVID-19 pandemic that caused the whole world to take notice of the direction we, as people – the most important element of the whole ecosystem, are heading. It is high time for us to acquire and select instruments indispensable for us to use in combined effort relating to climate change.

Numerous professional studies point to a connection between the health of a given population (no matter its location) and the indicators of climate change. To the most important sources impacting health of mankind belong those which have direct influence on our health or lives. Climate change result in mainly negative consequences for humans’ health, although the impact is not uniform for the whole population.

Seniors under special care                                     

Children, the elderly and people with complex health problems, including the handicapped definitely constitute groups especially sensitive to the effects of climate change. At first climate change affects most impoverished and sensitive communities, but progressive changes of climate and demography lead to disruptions in the development of the whole population. The elderly are more sensitive to the changes happening in the environment and also less resilient to the effects of harmful or infectious elements and toxins. 

Senior citizens are also more encumbered by illnesses than younger people. The cumulated effect of that encumbrance causes the elderly to be less or even completely unable to tolerate ever-changing external factors. What is more, elderly people in bad health are undoubtedly more exposed to serious health consequences.

The most dangerous factors of climate change that influences human life, in particular in case of the elderly, are heat waves which may raise the risk of sickness or even death, especially amongst people suffering from cardiac insufficiency, diabetes and chronic diseases. Ill-advised habits and lack of appropriate reaction may cause massive heat-strokes and dehydration of senior citizens which may exacerbate already existing illnesses.

Other extreme weather phenomena and their effects are just as dangerous, e.g. floods (associated with heavy rains, hurricanes and costal rainstorms), droughts and wildfires that raise the risk of health deterioration and even death of senior citizens, considering their weakened physical and psychological condition, in cases where quick and effective reaction is important. Air contamination, including smog, are very dangerous as they make the breathing conditions worse – especially in cases of typical amongst the elderly and adults difficulties such as asthma and chronic pulmonary diseases – and raise the risk of heart attack most prominently in cases of the elderly affected by obesity or diabetes.

For senior citizens with a weakened immune system, paramount effect of climate change  constituting serious danger are also infectious diseases and parasites, including those carried by mosquitos and ticks. We should not forget about water contamination in a great degree leading to exposure to the risk of contracting gastrointestinal tract diseases, which is especially dangerous in case of the elderly. 

Considering the above progressive global climate changes and also aging of the society all over the world are perceived currently as two most significant challenges and problems of all humankind.


New challenges

Looking more broadly at the subject at hand we cannot fail to recognize the situation that the whole world is presently in. The coronavirus pandemic is with us whole difficult year, filled with challenges and worries. It has changed how the world functions, remodeled our approach to many issues, including those of the protection of the environment. The pandemic caused us to have more appreciation of the role and importance of public health and existence of systemic sanitary protection.

We can observe phenomena in which previous problems are replaced by new ones, and we face new challenges when it comes to environmental protection. On one hand in many places of the world we can observe diminished carbon dioxide emissions because of restrictions in aerial, naval and car transport, closing of selected production lines and reduced consumerism. On the other hand appeared the problem with medical waste, that cannot be recycled and an increase of electricity consumption in households where we now fulfill most of our needs. 

It is important to realize that the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic has notable impact on physical and psychological health of people all over the world also in result of restrictions introduced to counter its effects. The epidemic undoubtedly influenced severely the effectiveness of health protection systems, including long-time care, especially in the context of limited human resources, but also hardware and organizational deficiencies.

Taking into account that the elderly belong to the main risk-group to be infected by SARS-CoV-2 virus and to contract COVID-19 all countries undertake actions necessary to mitigate the influence of the epidemic on senior citizens and their caretakers both in the area of infection control, prevention from spreading disease and deaths because of COVID-19, and also to counteract negative effects of epidemic-related restrictions resulting in social isolation and impeded access to health services which are of particular significance for the elderly and those who are not self-reliant.

In this context more and more important become previous efforts to digitalize the health protection system and develop health e-services, utilizing modern technologies, which in turn may not only reduce negative effects of the epidemic, but also streamline the process of providing health services and the realization of other actions to the benefit of public health including the health of the senior citizens and their caretakers.

What is more the search for new ways of thinking and managing danger and risk, complexity and uncertainty brings solutions leading to de-institutionalization, adoption and realization of tasks facilitating quick and effective actions in local communities. The process of adaptation uniformly in the state of progressing climate change, increasing impact of weather factors and ongoing pandemic and simultaneously being conscious of the inevitability of occurring changes should in mitigation of the effect on most exposed groups that need special support – children and seniors. 

In circumstances of climate change and potential increase of climate risks it is necessary to develop the best adaptation strategy possible. The elderly – although undoubtably exceptionally susceptible to the effects of climate change – have in this area prominent social role through sharing their knowledge and experience in coping with climate change, changes in the model of social relations and developing cross-generational integration.

Saint John Paul the IInd in his letter to the elderly pointed out that “seniors help us to perceive world events more acutely because of their life experiences they have gained knowledge and maturity. They are the guardians of collective memory and therefore have particular mandate to be a conduit of common ideas and values which are the basis and rule of social life. To exclude them from society means to reject the past, in which the present is rooted, in the name of modernity stripped of memory.”[2]

Senior citizens bring a lot into the life of every family by cultivating and developing cross-generational bond. It is those bonds that secure continuity of generations. Life experience of seniors constitutes a priceless treasure, and they can always provide advice and knowledge to the younger generations.

That is why social policy relating to the elderly represents for the whole Council of Ministers one of the priorities of the undertaken public policy. The purpose of social policy towards seniors is the augmentation of their quality of life by, amongst others, facilitating them to remain self-reliant and active for the longest time possible, and to provide security.

Ministry of Family and Social Policy with actions for the elderly

The period of pandemic, besides perils caused by the propagation of COVID-19, enhanced the feeling of alienation and loneliness amongst seniors. To mitigate the emotion of loneliness, also to assure safe conditions and to sustain activity of the elderly the Ministry of Family and Social Policy undertakes numerous activities on behalf of seniors, related to information about dangers and safeguarding of the elderly against coronavirus and also promotion of voluntary services for senior citizens and local communities in regards to supporting seniors in their daily chores (e.g. neighborly help such as getting groceries or preparing meals) and functioning of the Solicitous Corps for the Support of Seniors.

Outreach to the broadest possible circle of interested parties: seniors and people who can relay information to their close relatives or are willing to support senior citizens in the time of epidemy, was assured by dispatching information put together to all Senior+ agencies and non-governmental organizations participating in the realization of tasks within ASOS Program all over the country, and also by publication and real-time actualization of internet sites of the Ministry: and (in the tab „Safe and active senior”), also in social media. What is more in March 2021 on Polish Public Radio a cycle of broadcasts titled “Let’s Support Seniors” will be released.

These measures are congruent with the recommendation of the World Health Organization and the activities of European Commission with regards to healthy and active aging and is also harmonious with the direction of policy towards seniors adopted by the Council of Ministers.The scope of senior-related policy of the government of united right is established in the document “Social policy relating to senior citizens 2030. Security – Participation – Solidarity” adopted by the Council of Ministers at the end of 2018. Inclusion of non-governmental side and all institution of the government and local governments in the creation of the document allowed to formulate social diagnosis of high substantive standard of the situation of senior citizens, adequate to factual necessities and challenges and also to identify actions with real impact on the realization of the goals of social policy regarding seniors.

Social policy towards the elderly is interdisciplinary – its actions permeate most areas of public policy carried out by the Council of Ministers. The actions undertaken by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy in regards to climate change are largely of educational character. Senior citizens have essential input in the efforts on behalf of sustainable development including by their experience and active and substantial participation in social life.  With them in mind the Ministry of Family and Social Policy has prepared governmental programs where seniors have the opportunity to benefit from activities, which purpose is to recognize the subject matter of ecology and environmental protection.


Long-term program “Senior+” for years 2021-2025 allowed care homes to organize activities, during which  seniors can participate in lectures about climate protection (e.g. regarding burning of trash and protection of air quality), talks about ecology, collective workshops.

Similar tasks were co-financed until the year 2020 within the program for the Activity of Senior Citizens (ASOS) and will be continued within Long-term Program for Senior Citizens “Active+” for 2021-2025. It mainly concerns workshops on planning and maintaining front and backyard gardens, educational activities regarding recycling, consultations with dietitian pertaining to healthy and ecological nourishment aimed to counteract civilization diseases.  In general the programs have a cross-generational character. 

A good example of a project realized and co-financed within Governmental Program for the Social Activity of Senior Citizens for years 2014-2020 Edition 2020 may be “Eko-Senior” which was realized in 2020 by Caritas of Archdiocese Katowice and was an answer to the necessity for senior act activeness and also present and increasing social needs – such as: necessity to incentivize pro-ecological conscience, development od actions for the protection of environment and development of collective effort for the protection of own health and prophylactics. Main premise of the project were accomplished by means of active methods, educational activities, prelections, talks, lectures, workshops, outdoor workshops, trainings, outs and excursions and also recreational undertakings, contained in the fallowing consecutive stages: theoretical educational activities, active practical workshops and exchange of experience.

Śląsk-based Project Eko-Senior – it is a complex system of educational and activity stimulating actions directed to seniors, attendees of day-care nursing homes, which premises rely on the idea of learning all throughout life, and it’s mainly directed on activities assuming integration of substantial mutually dependent factors: making the quality of life of the elderly better by raising their activity and the level of pro-ecological and health-promoting knowledge.

Practical, and activity-raising, innovative form of work were pro-ecological workshops: Seniors’ Eko Pantry and Herb Garden in combination with culinary and healthy-eating workshops, Seniors’ Eko Chemist aimed at self-manufacturing of cosmetics and eco-detergents, eco-handcraft and hobbies utilizing common recycling materials, which constituted ecological and artistic workshops, and numerous integrational activities and initiatives in form of acquisition and exchange of experience at eco-picnics, cyclical outdoor workshops, events and excursions to ecological nooks of Poland.   

The environment we live in at fast pace deteriorates into a system of filthy, cluttered, unwelcoming to people places, and people surround themselves with great number of artificially produced, used-up, often detrimental to health items. Ecological education is crucial in making people aware of a need and a must of environmental protection. These times it is one of the most consequential and responsible social tasks. Campaigns and educational actions aimed to shape the sense of responsibility for the condition of natural environment, incentivization of the readiness to act on behalf of its protection and creating emotional bonds with nature have cross-generational character. The project carried out in Poland, in Śląsk voivodship, includes above mentioned values but also includes seniors in propagation of those values at the same time positively affecting their active participation in social life.

Raising awareness of an elderly person to the needs of the environment, enriching their knowledge of correlations occurring in nature, pointing to the beauty and diversity is aimed to demonstrate the elderly how much depends on themselves and how much needed they are in local communities. The  initiatives undertaken in such projects result in improvement in overall health, both in aspects of somatic and psychological health, and therefore positively influence seniors’ participation in social life and their active partaking in actions on behalf of environmental protection. 

More information about the programs and systemic supporting actions carried out by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy on behalf of seniors, families with children, the handicapped are available on our websites. 

Author: Lidia Ułanowska, Director of Senior Policy Department

Title, lead and subtitle prepared by TOGETAIR

[2] Letter of the Holy Father John Paul the IInd To my Brothers and Sisters – people in advanced age, point 10.