Italy to require schools to teach climate change, in world first

Should other nations start requiring schools to teach climate science, too?


Barbara Alper
/ Getty
  • Starting September 2020, public schools in Italy will have to incorporate 33 hours of climate-related lessons into their annual curriculum.
  • Italy's education minister said it's part of an effort to place "the environment and society at the core of everything we learn in school."
  • In the U.S., not all states have implemented teaching standards that call for lessons on climate science, but about 80 percent of parents said they support such standards.


Italy is set to become the first country to make climate change education mandatory in public schools.

Starting September 2020, Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti said the nation's public schools will be required to implement 33 hours of climate change-related lessons into their curriculum. These lessons will be added to existing civics classes, Vincenzo Cramarossa, Fioramonti's spokesman, told CNN.

"There will be more attention to climate change when teaching those traditional subjects," he said. "The idea is that the citizens of the future need to be ready for the climate emergency."

Students, associations and movements, in the streets to demonstrate against climate change during the Friday For Future.

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Sustainable development will also be taught in classes such as math, physics, and geography. Fioramonti told Reuters that his ministry is working to put climate science and sustainability at the center of the national education model.

"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," he said.

Pew Research Center

Fioramonti, an economics professor at South Africa's Pretoria University, said he'll work with a group of experts — including Jeffrey D. Sachs, director of the Harvard Institute for International Development, and Kate Raworth of Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute — to help prepare climate curricula. Fioramonti belongs to Italy's anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which in 2018 became the largest individual political party in parliament. In 2018, he was criticized by conservatives for encouraging students to skip classes to attend climate change protests.

​Climate education in the U.S.

Many public schools in the U.S. teach climate science in some capacity. That's largely thanks to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), a multi-state effort to raise teaching standards on topics such as evolution and climate change. Since 2013, 19 states have adopted the standards, while some 20 other states have developed similar standards based on "A Framework for K–12 Science Education." California, meanwhile, has its own California Next Generation Science Standards.

One reason some states haven't adopted these standards is a lack of federal funding; without these incentives, it'd be difficult for some districts to update curricula. Climate science also remains politically controversial in the U.S., and there are efforts in at least one state to make it easier to teach students that humans aren't the primary driver of global warming.

Recent surveys suggest that about 75 percent of Americans believe that humans are fueling climate change. A NPR/Ipsos poll from April found that more than 80 percent of parents support the teaching of climate science. A separate poll found that an even higher share of teachers — 86 percent — also supported teaching climate science.
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