Climate change and the double impact of aging

  • Climate change will compound the rise in health expenditure already expected due to aging societies. With the total number of people aged 60 and older in the EU 27 member states and Norway and Switzerland set to increase to 152mn, from around 130mn today, health costs per capita are likely to rise by +8.5% until 2035. But this could be exacerbated by climate change, which affects older persons disproportionally. Climate change has already caused 157,000 premature deaths between 2000 and 2023 in the European countries we analyze.
  • The direct effects of climate change include increased injuries due to extreme weather events such as floods, storms and cyclones, forest fires or heat waves. The heatwave exposure of persons aged 65 has almost doubled in the decade to 2020, even before the recent spate of record-hot years. Furthermore, while warmer waters in the North of Europe foster the spread of bacteria, the South will be affected by an increase in vector-borne diseases transmitted by mosquitoes such as malaria, dengue fever or the West Nile virus, due to rising air temperatures.
  • The rising prevalence of heatwaves alone could increase the health costs per capita by between +2% (Ireland) and +5% (Greece) until 2035. On average, the cost would be around 4.9% higher than today. However, in combination with population aging, health costs are set to increase between +7% (Denmark) and +14% (Poland) (EU average: 12%).
  • But there are also less-visible indirect and long-term effects to consider. Heat-related stress and deteriorating sleep quality as well as natural catastrophes could contribute to mental health conditions. At the same time, reduced outdoor activities due to extreme temperatures could result in a further rise in the prevalence of overweight and obesity. Mental health issues and obesity are also risk factors for developing dementia at higher ages. These indirect costs of climate change might add another 3% to the per capita health costs in the long run.
  • Adaptation measures need to be implemented, fast. Urban planning plays a key role here: green spaces, reflective materials and structural modifications can contribute to reducing heat in cities. On the other hand, relying on air conditioning is a double-edged sword as it contributes to climate change emissions and aggravates the heat-island effect in cities. Against this background, alternative measures such as the greening of cities are better suited and should be the top priority.
Arne Holzhausen
Allianz SE
Michaela Grimm
Allianz SE
Markus Zimmer
Allianz SE