South Africa phases out inefficient lighting to combat Climate Change

South African, host of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Durban (COP17), Wednesday, December 7, 2011, formally announced a comprehensive phase-out policy for inefficient lighting, to combat climate change.

The phase-out is linked to a global initiative from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) with the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), to tackle climate change through the transition to energy efficient lighting.

With the announcement, South Africa thus becomes the first African nation to undertake a comprehensive national phase-out transition from inefficient lighting. Although many African countries have introduced energy-saving lighting, none has yet completely phased out inefficient lightening, which is known to impact negatively on energy consumption.
However, the phase-out of inefficient lighting is said to be one of the quickest, easiest and most effective ways to save energy and combat climate change.

Although incandescent lamps have already been phased-out, or are scheduled to be phased-out in most OECD countries, Argentina, Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam and other developing countries,  over 130 countries still market inefficient incandescent lamps.

Electricity for lighting accounts for close to 20 per cent of total global electricity production and six per cent of worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, according to the International Energy Agency but the UNEP initiative known as The en.lighten initiative, aims to halve these emissions.

Commenting on the initiative, Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director,  said “If a global temperature rise is to be kept under 2 degrees C, we need to act on multiple fronts, including voluntary and legally binding actions. Fast tracking more energy-efficient lighting is without doubt one of the low hanging fruit offering not only emissions saving but cost savings to a company or a household’s budget. This UNEP/GEF Global Partnership is switching off old bulbs and switching on a path to a more low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy. The aim of achieving a global phase-out by 2016 is not only possible but infinitely do-able.”

For her part, Monique Barbut, CEO and Chairperson of the Global Environment Facility said, “The GEF is a champion of market efforts to expand efficient lighting to developing countries throughout the world,” adding, “en.lighten is the latest initiative funded by the GEF in partnership with UNEP to accelerate market transformation of efficient lighting technologies on a global scale. Through this initiative, we are building a brighter future today and for the next generations to come.”

Meanwhile at COP16 last year, en.lighten unveiled Country Lighting Assessments detailing country savings from the shift away from inefficient incandescent lamps to efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). According to a statement announcing South Africa’s decision, the total global savings from phasing-out incandescent lamps amounts to the same emissions as over half of the annual international aviation sector, or the electricity consumed yearly by the United Kingdom and Denmark combined.

The UNEP/GEF en.lighten initiative was launched in September 2009 as a globally coordinated effort to accelerate the transition to efficient lighting and mitigate climate change. It is a partnership between UNEP, GEF, and private sector partners Osram AG, Philips Lighting and the National Lighting Test Centre of China (NLTC).

On the other hand, UNEP has set an ambitious target date to phase-out inefficient incandescent lamps globally by 2016, which is the first step in the transition to more efficient lighting and a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy.

It is believed South Africa will be able to electrify over four million homes with the electricity saved from phasing-out incandescent lamps and also become the first African country to phase-out incandescent lamps following an integrated approach, including the development of collection and recycling systems. Beginning in January 2012, the country fully supports the 2016 global deadline for the phase-out of inefficient lamps and will complete the phase-out by 2016.

Touching on the step taken by her country, H.E. Ms. Duipo Peters, South Africa’s Minister of Energy said, “South Africa is working with UNEP and its Global Partnership to share these lessons learned with other African countries willing to phase-out and reap the benefits that a transition would bring.”

“We encourage all countries that have not yet phased-out inefficient lighting to join the UNEP Global Partnership and work with us to move towards an efficient lighting world to mitigate climate change,” she added.

“Ms. Duipo Peters stated further that South Africa faces important power shortages, which will be greatly mitigated by the phase-out of incandescent lamps. The electricity saved by the phase-out will be directed to more pressing social needs. South Africa is committed to mitigating climate change. This measure is a key action to reduce CO2 emissions.”

For now, Over 25 developing countries from four continents have joined the Global Efficient Lighting Partnership Programme, which has been established to support countries to design and implement national inefficient lighting phase-out strategies adapted to specific country conditions and requirements.

Uruguay was the first country to join the UNEP/GEF Global Partnership in August 2011, for which activities will begin in early 2012. The country has also begun measures to waive taxes for efficient lighting technologies and to develop pilot projects to promote the collection of spent lamps.

A principle and readily available technology, the CFL, produces an equivalent amount of light using 75 per cent less energy and also last up to ten times longer than incandescent bulbs, unlike older incandescent light bulbs which produce 95 per cent heat and just five per cent light.

However, there has been criticism of the health hazards of the mercury used in CFLs, which is an issue that raises questions about the technology’s environmental credentials.

Studies have shown though, that the average mercury content in a CFL bulb is about three milligrams (mg) – roughly the amount it would take to cover the tip of a ball-point pen. By comparison, older thermometers contain 500 mg of mercury – the equivalent of more than 100 CFLs.

Mercury is also emitted from coal-fired power stations but studies indicate that mercury emissions from power stations linked with conventional incandescent bulbs are far higher than those linked with the disposal of efficient bulbs.

In Uruguay, a proposal has been developed to implement national regulations for restricting the importation of lamps based on mercury content.  But it is believed that as no recycling plan could succeed in recovering 100 per cent of spent lamps from domestic waste, restricting and discouraging lamps with high mercury content will significantly reduce the presence of mercury in a country.

Meanwhile, other mercury-free technologies are also being promoted including Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), but they also contain electronic components needing collection and recycling. The advantage however, is that they do not contain mercury and have other advantages such as long life, warm light colour similar to incandescent lamps and low heat generation.

The establishment of collection and recycling schemes is a key issue and the UNEP/GEF en.lighten Global Partnership will support countries to establish sustainable end-of-life norms and approaches for spent lamps.

UNEP says it has brought together top international experts, to provide guidance and technical support to countries that partner with the en.lighten initiative to develop national efficient lighting strategies and plans.

It has also developed recommendations for countries to follow an “integrated approach” to phase-out incandescent lamps, which includes the use of globally harmonised minimum energy performance standards; establishing quality control mechanisms; and, establishing sound lamp disposal and recycling schemes.

UNEP has also pledged to support countries in launching their own national lighting transition strategies on the basis of global best practices.

It has been noted that residential incandescent lamps are the most common lamp type and the easiest to address to mitigate climate change, but it is believed that more savings can be achieved through a transition to efficient lighting in other sectors, such as commercial and industrial lighting. UNEP says this will be its next priority, by unveiling plans for the transition for all lighting sectors at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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