In the latest World Economic Forum Global Risks Report, “Management of Population Ageing” is identified as one of the top 50 risks facing the world in 2012. As a working 74-year-old – regularly putting in more than 70 hours a week – this subject is close to my heart. But it is also critically important to the future of the planet.

That one of the greatest achievements of the modern era – an almost globally sustained increase in life expectancy – also poses a risk to civil society is emblematic of the complexity of the modern world. This paradox is proof of the need for committed action by all stakeholders if we are to avoid large-scale political, economic and social fall-out.

We visited this theme previously in our Global Agenda Council report, Global Population Ageing: Peril or Promise?, which was launched at Davos in 2012. Additionally, we have undertaken other initiatives, such as a Charter for Healthy Living to encourage multistakeholder engagement and our report on the economic burden of non-communicable diseases, published in September 2011.

The Forum has devised five key recommendations for achieving the three fundamental objectives – staying Healthy, Active and Autonomous – for positive ageing.

  • Embracing the new reality of ageing: An adjustment in behaviour, institutions and public policies is needed to reflect the new meaning of ageing and with it, the altered needs and capacities of older people. This means investing in older people, so that they can continue to learn and contribute to society; rethinking business practices to facilitate participation of older workers; and reforming pension and health systems to better meet the needs of older people.
  • Commitment at the highest level: History has proven that fundamental reform requires high-level champions. In the case of ageing, bringing about a commitment to an age-friendly society requires policy responses from the very top of decision-making structures.
  • Early and swift action: Waiting for a crisis to manifest itself is not an option. Many policy responses require very long lead times for design and implementation, far outlasting the mandates of current governments or chief executives.
  • Social, political and economic change at all levels: We call this the multistakeholder approach. In terms of ageing, the phrase “We are all in this together” could not be more relevant. For example, urban, age-friendly design and the setting of legal retirement ages are national issues. The concept of human rights for older people is an international concern. Likewise, migration is a bilateral and multilateral issue.
  • Better use of existing resources and adoption of new technologies. We can help people to stay active, healthy and autonomous by building age-friendly cities and “smart homes” that deploy a range of monitoring and supportive devices to help older people manage life more effectively. We can re-engineer health systems to focus on disease prevention and early screening, rather than on expensive intervention. With these measures, we will contribute to creating better quality lives for older people: lives that are also inclusive and sustainable.

Pictured: ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES, 09OCT11 – Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum speaks at the Forum briefing ahead of the World Economic Forum’s Summit on the Global Agenda 2011 held in Abu Dhabi, 10-11 October 2011.