Children studying in Italy’s public schools will soon have climate change lessons on their weekly schedules.
Italy’s education minister, Lorenzo Fioramonti, announced on Tuesday that climate change and sustainability will be a mandatory part of education for students ages 6 to 19. The new law will make Italy the first country in the world to introduce compulsory climate change education at all levels.
Teachers will start training in the new year and the school module will be rolled out in September 2020.
Initially, the classes will amount to 33 hours a year ― about an hour a week ― but the aim is also to thread the topic through traditional subjects such as geography and math. The syllabus will center around the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, a collection of 17 goals focused on tackling poverty, inequality and climate change.
Fioramonti is a member of the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement in Italy and a key advocate of environmental policies. Previously a professor of political economy, he has written about the need to move beyond traditional measures of economic success, such as gross domestic product, and toward better ways of measuring our well-being.
As a government minister, he has voiced support for taxes on flying, sugar-sweetened drinks and plastics. And in September, he encouraged students in Italy to skip school to join the global climate strikes, saying on Facebook that schools should consider absences as justified because children’s lives are “threatened by environmental devastation and an unsustainable economic development.”
His green policies have made him a target of Italy’s popular, far-right Lega party whose leader, Matteo Salvini, has cast doubt on climate change.
But Fioramonti is confident there is broad support among Italians for his policy, especially young people. “They are yearning to understand how the knowledge can be applied to foster sustainable development,” he told HuffPost. “And they yearn for scientific education that can give meaning to their lives.”
Some environmental experts have embraced the news with caution. Edoardo Zanchini, vice president of Legambiente, a big environmental group in Italy, told The New York Times that there isn’t time to pin all of our hopes on young people. “Science tells us the next 10 years are crucial. We cannot wait for the next generation,” he said.
A paper released Tuesday, supported by 11,000 scientists all over the world, said that we could expect “untold human suffering” if the world did not take immediate and drastic action.
Fioramonti said, however, that he wants to bolster intergenerational understanding, rather than pin all hopes on young people. He aims, he said, to “build a strong bridge between old and new generations around sustainable development as a social glue.”
The chance of the U.S. government implementing anything similar in American public schools is currently incredibly remote. Italy’s announcement comes the same week that President Donald Trump officially started the process to pull the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement, which commits countries to reducing emissions in an attempt to keep global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Still, Fioramonti remains positive. “I have no doubt that more and more countries will join,” he said. “We need to join forces among progressive societies, against this wave of denial and conservative policies.”
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