Italy and Mexico, speaking at a press conference at COP25 in Madrid, urged other countries to follow suit in order to make strong, environmental education a world-wide phenomenon.
They proposed Earth Day in April next year as one of a series of milestones in 2020 where like-minded nations could announce higher ambition on climate and environmental education.
The plan is to have a critical mass of countries committed to the environmental and climate education agenda by the time of the UN climate conference (COP26) taking place in Glasgow, UK in November.
Lorenzo Fioramonti, Italy’s Minister of Education, Innovation and Research, said: “Young people are demanding that governments take climate change far more seriously. There are many areas of society where we must act, and act with increased ambition: compulsory education on these topics needs to be a key part of this national and international response to the big issues of our time”.
The Italian Education Minister said that Earth Day 2020 represents one of the key moments in this important year to recognize the centrality of climate and environmental education including through ‘Teach-Ins’ as one way of raising awareness among the young.
He said he hoped other countries would take the same opportunity mark Earth Day’s 50th anniversary and the birth of the environmental movement.
Teach-ins, in which students organize debates and propose solutions to environmental challenges, was a key feature of the first Earth Day where over 20 million young people and citizens protested in 1970, triggering in the process new laws and action by the then US administration.
Martha Delgado, Vice Minister of Global Affairs in Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said her country had now incorporated mandatory environmental education into Mexico’s constitution as the first step in a new comprehensive plan.
“Mexico is now committed to mandatory environmental education at home, but we are also committed to promoting environmental education internationally. The challenges we are facing are national but also global. Young people everywhere need the knowledge to fully respond to what is unfolding on in our world,” he said.
“Great transformations can only be achieved through knowledge, awareness and the sense of collaboration. We are convinced that environmental education is the route to meeting Sustainable Development Goals, an essential tool to fight the climate crisis and can prompt a profound cultural change to contribute to our planet’s sustainability,” said Vice-Minister Delgado.
Kathleen Rogers, President of the Earth Day Network, said environmental literacy had been at the core of Earth Day since its inception in 1970 but that governments had not gone far enough.
“Young people, through movements such as Fridays for Future, have been asking governments to tell the truth about the climate and environmental emergencies that we are now facing—‘telling the truth’ needs to happen in the schools and universities, and needs to happen now,” she said.
Rogers said that while globally climate and environmental education exist across the spectrum, from decades of formal implementation to continued exclusion of the topic as a whole, it is time to make these critical subjects compulsory and to link them to civic education so that students will develop both the knowledge and the civic skills they need to fully engage in the solutions to climate change.
“These are the core elements of transforming our societies so that a new, far better informed and active generation can emerge to ensure governments truly respond to the challenges of our time,” she said.
Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), welcomed the announcements of Italy and Mexico as a key contribution to realizing the aims of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Under the Agreement governments are looking to enhance their Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs) in 2020 as contribution to climate action but also the Sustainable Development Goals.
From Madrid and COP25, focus will also be on the Congregation for Catholic Institutes of the Holy See which has chosen Earth Day 2020 as a preparatory meeting for the Global Compact on Education that Pope Francis will launch on May 14th. It aims to promote a global commitment that also teaches new generations respect for humankind and nature.
Earth Day Italia is working together with the Italian Ministry for the Environment and the Festival for Sustainable Education to support this initiative.