The world is ageing rapidly. As fertility falls and life expectancy grows, the number of older people in both the developed and developing world is soaring. By 2050, there will be more than 2 billion people aged over 60 on this planet, out-numbering children below the age of 15 and accounting for 21.5% of the global population. Of these older people, 80% will live in developing countries.
Population ageing is an inevitable outcome of successful development efforts in which the EU as the world's biggest donor plays an important role. Despite this, older people and their rights continue to be regarded as a fairly minor issue in development debates.
Only one in four older people receive a pension in low and middle-income countries. They are also more likely to have a disability or be in ill health. They struggle to claim their rights and often face violence and abuse in their communities. Older women outnumber older men, but they are more likely to suffer extreme poverty and live longer in poorer health.
Especially older women are afflicted
For older women, exclusion is two-fold. Throughout their lives they have experienced gender-based discrimination, and in their later years this is magnified by ageism. It is a concern, therefore, that many population-based surveys used in assessing development progress do not measure the whole life course, leaving older people invisible.
Data collected on violence against women, for example, often stops at age 49. This completely ignores around a third of a woman's life and excludes one quarter of the world's women.
More recently, population ageing and the rights of older people have begun to attract more attention in the EU's external action policies.
There were numerous references to older people and age in the EU's policy positions and statements around the development of the global Sustainable Development Goals framework, particularly in the context of the commitment to leave no-one behind.
The EU has to set change in motion
In July 2015, the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy 2015-2019 included a dedicated action on older people's rights, reflecting the growing consensus globally to do more on this issue.
Meanwhile, the new EU Gender Action Plan 2016-2020 presents an important opportunity to address the particular challenges facing girls and women of all ages, including older women.
This year will be an important year in progressing these commitments. The EU now needs to ensure the full implementation of these important EU and global frameworks and back them with the necessary capacity and resources.
The collection and use of data disaggregated by age, sex and other important characteristics will underpin these efforts. The EU must also use its considerable influence at the international level to be a strong voice in championing a 2030 Agenda that includes and benefits people of all ages worldwide.
The development of the EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy in 2016 is an important moment to position population ageing as one of the significant trends rapidly shaping the global environment.