Put climate change study on curriculum: Pressure mounts on schools

Great Barrier Reef
A school of fish swim above a staghorn coral colony as it grows on the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cairns, Australia. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Rome: International bodies and pressure groups are calling for climate change studies to become a standard part of the school curriculum worldwide, saying the step is vital to reach targets on cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations Education, Science and Culture Organisation, UNESCO, said this month that environmental studies should be standard teaching in all countries by 2025.

That may seem an ambitious goal but some environmental lobbies and politicians say it is too timid.

"Without faster progress on education there will be no chance of achieving the goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050," said Italian lawmaker Lorenzo Fioramonti, a former education minister.

Fioramonti championed a law which in 2020 made Italy the world's first country to make climate study compulsory in schools, but he admits that putting it into practice in the classroom has been patchy.

He resigned in a row over education funding shortly after the law was passed and so was unable to oversee its application, while the COVID-19 emergency left Italy's schools struggling to teach the usual curriculum, never mind introduce innovations.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and David Attenborough look at a projection of planet Earth during a conference about the UK-hosted COP26 UN Climate Summit, at the Science Museum in London, Britain. File photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Pool via REUTERS

New Zealand has since introduced climate change studies into its secondary school curriculum, and other countries such as Argentina and Mexico have taken preliminary steps to follow suit.

The Brookings Institution, a U.S. think-tank, has called for climate action projects in all schools by 2025.

It said in a March report that the ensuing changes in consumer behaviour could have a bigger impact on cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 2050 than that from investing in wind turbines and solar power.

In Britain, former Schools Minister Jim Knight, of the opposition Labour Party, presented a bill on Tuesday calling for "sustainable citizenship education" including climate change, to become part of the basic school curriculum from 2023.

Britain, as annual president of the Group of Seven rich countries, and Italy, which heads the broader G20, have a potentially key role in pushing the agenda on climate change education. Together, they are organising the U.N. climate change conference known as COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November.

"If we are to make the changes in energy consumption, transport and food choices that we need to reach our carbon zero goal then the best place to start is in schools," said Knight.

Green parties and pressure groups have also been lobbying the G20 to adopt a commitment to mandatory teaching of climate change when education ministers from the member countries meet in Catania, Sicily, on June 22.

Fioramonti, one of a group of former ministers and non-government organisations behind the effort, said they had had "good feedback from a number of countries, including Italy".

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