ROME • Italy's public schools will soon require students in every grade to study climate change and sustainability, a step that the education minister said will put the country at the forefront of environmental education worldwide.
The lessons, to be first taught as part of the students' civics education, will eventually become integrated throughout a variety of subjects, said Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti.
Environmental advocates welcomed the new subject matter, with some caveats. Teaching children about sustainability is "certainly very important", said Mr Edoardo Zanchini, vice-president of Legambiente, Italy's leading environmental group. But he warned that responsibility should not simply be passed on to children.
"Science tells us the next 10 years are crucial," he said. "We cannot wait for the next generation."
Mr Fioramonti is a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, which has long put environmental concerns at the heart of its identity. He has already become a target of conservatives for backing taxes on sugar and plastics, and for encouraging students to take part in climate protests in September instead of attending class.
Starting in September next year, he said, teachers in every grade will lead lessons in climate change and environmental sustainability. That 33-hour-a-year lesson, he said, will be used as a pilot programme to eventually fold the climate agenda of the United Nations into the entire curriculum. Geography courses, for instance, will soon study the impact of human actions on different parts of the planet, he said.
In an interview, Mr Fioramonti said that a group of experts will act as "peer reviewers" for ministry staff preparing the curriculum. By January, he said, the ministry will be ready to train teachers.
For children aged six to 11, he said, "we are thinking of using the fairy-tale model", in which stories from different cultures would emphasise a connection to the environment. Middle schoolers would be expected to learn more technical information, and high school students would explore the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in depth.
Until August, Five Star had governed Italy for more than a year with the nationalist League party, led by Mr Matteo Salvini, who is still the country's most popular politician, and who has a sceptical view of climate change.
"That is the kind of nonsense we want to avoid by educating children that this is the most important challenge humanity has ever faced," Mr Fioramonti said. "And I want to secure this before there is any change in government that can imperil that kind of process."
Still, many Italians are concerned that Five Star's emphasis on environmental issues - or, perhaps, its failure to pursue such goals competently - is destroying the country's economy.
But as President Donald Trump began pulling the United States out of the landmark Paris Agreement this week, Mr Fioramanti said that every country needed to do its part to stop the "Trumps of the world".
Mr Fioramanti's goal is to show children that there is another way. "The 21st-century citizen must be a sustainable citizen."