By Adam DuBard
BOLOGNA, Italy – In early November 2019, Italy became the first country to implement mandatory climate change and sustainability lessons in their school curriculum.
Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramanti of the Five Star party, one of Italy’s major parties known for its anti-establishment rhetoric and populist policies, announced a new requirement that all schools commit 33 hours a year, or around one hour a week, to teaching about the effects of climate change and the challenges surrounding it. In addition, Italy plans to teach other subjects such as geography, math and physics through the lens of sustainability to reinforce the urgency of the subject matter.
“I want to make the Italian education system the first education system that puts the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school,” Fioramanti said when announcing the new curriculum changes.
The country’s groundbreaking announcement comes as public demand for action on climate change reaches a fever pitch. In September, millions of protestors walked out of work and school around the world to protest government inaction on what is increasingly becoming a pressing global issue. Fioramanti himself encouraged students to skip school and protest, calling it “essential” for their futures.
Italy’s bold new education policy shows that countries can push forward with progressive climate policies despite domestic pushback and criticism. Italy’s own former deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini has been an outspoken critic of most environmentally-focused regulation, as his League party has consistently voted against bills aimed at changing climate and environmental policies.
However, Fioramanti remains undeterred in his mission to educate the Italian public on the issues surrounding climate change. “I want to represent the Italy that stands against all the things that Salvini does,” he remarked when responding to criticism directed towards his new proposals.
Julia Fonteles, a SAIS MA student concentrating in Energy Resources and the Environment, is skeptical about the plan. “It’s a good start but a lot more has to be done to reverse the consequences of climate change,” she says. According to her, the Climate Conference in Madrid is a good benchmark to understand where countries stand at a national level.
As Italy announced these new educational measures, the U.S. formally announced its decision to leave the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, making it the only country to do so. The current administration has also committed to rolling back numerous environmental regulations, including the repeal of the Clean Water Regulation Act in September.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, the 20 warmest years on record have all occurred within the last 22 years. This year has seen increased flooding, wildfires and massive storms which contributed to a record-breaking number of climate refugees. The International Displacement Monitoring Centre reports that 7 million people were displaced due to climate-related disasters between January and June 2019, a new record. While education is a promising first step, all nations will ultimately have to develop more immediate measures, as the planet is already starting to feel the repercussions of inaction to address climate change.