EU Commission adopts regulation to ban all fluorescent lighting by September 2023

(eceee news, 17 Dec 2021) The European Commission has now adopted 12 regulations under the RoHS Directive effectively banning fluorescent lighting for sale in the EU by September 2023. On a cumulative basis between 2023 and 2035, the much-delayed decision to phase-out these mercury-containing lamps will save approximately €18.2 billion, as well as 190 TWh of electricity and 1.8 metric tonnes of toxic mercury. The EU decision will provide crucial support to a global effort to phase-out fluorescents under the Minamata Convention on Mercury, where a key decision is expected in late March.

The decision to phase out all mercury-containing light sources comes after a public comment process that closed in July 2021. The public review gave no serious negative comments, so it was generally believed that the Commission was about to move forward quickly with the phase out decision.

The timing of this decision effectively means that the largest category of mercury-containing light sources, linear fluorescent lamps, will be banned by September 2023. This is when part of these light sources would have been banned under ecodesign anyway. However, this decision is a great step forward since it also covers another category that would have been allowed to remain on the market.

Significant EU impacts

The decision will have large impacts in the EU although the delay reduces the potential savings.

A detailed assessment by DG Environment assessment in July 2020 focused on the three most common types of mercury-containing lamps – T5 linear fluorescent, T8 linear fluorescent and pin-based compact fluorescents – concluded that a phase-out by 2021 would have generated an EU-wide cumulative reduction of electricity consumption of more than 300 terawatt-hours and 92 megatonnes of associated carbon dioxide emissions.

Due to the two-year delay, the benefits are now estimated at €18.2 billion Euros in net financial savings (including costs associated with lamps, luminaires and labour), and 1.8 tonnes less mercury from lamps avoided being placed into circulation in Europe. Additionally, a further 1.5 tonnes of mercury would be avoided from coal-fired power plant emissions due to the 190 TWh of electricity savings (see detailed calculations in previous article).

It should be noted that most of these reductions would occur early in the phase out, and with a declining share of coal in Europe’s power mix the opportunity to get rid of these air-borne mercury emissions would be better if the phase-out had started earlier. Still the benefits are significant, and more importantly, it can support a global phase out of mercury containing light sources.

A decision with global implications

At COP 26, the EU committed to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030, aiming to become the first region to reach climate neutrality by 2050. This fluorescent lamp phase out is an important part of that promise, which can be done at a direct societal benefit. At the COP 26, the EU also reaffirmed its commitment to continue support and develop new partnerships, and pledged financial support to help other countries speed up their climate transition. The EU already contributes more than a quarter of global climate finance, with over 27 billion dollars each year. 

The EU RoHS decisions will support a global acceleration of the transition to energy-efficient, clean LED lighting through the United Nations Minamata Convention on Mercury. The Convention launched in 2013 with the goal to “Make Mercury History” by eliminating the use of mercury in products and processes worldwide. Minamata seeks to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury, but it contains exemptions for, among other things, mercury-containing fluorescent lamps.

As of November 2021, 137 parties have ratified the Convention, including the EU-27. Despite significant progress to reduce mercury, the Convention includes special exemptions for mercury-based fluorescent lighting products. While these fluorescent exemptions may have been necessary in 2013 when the Convention was drafted, lighting technology has moved on rapidly – and today, the accessibility and affordability of mercury-free LED retrofit lamps makes the fluorescent lamp exemption unnecessary.

African countries propose a ban on fluorescents

At the upcoming Minamata Convention Conference of Parties (COP4) in March 2022, the 137 Parties have an opportunity to eliminate the fluorescent lamp exemptions. The African Region submitted a draft amendment on lighting to COP4 that would eliminate the exemptions for fluorescent lighting, leading to a global phase-out by 2025 and accelerating the transition to LED lighting.

If adopted at COP4, the cumulative (2025-2050) global benefits of the Lighting Amendments would be significant:

  • Eliminate 232 tonnes of mercury pollution from the environment, both from the light bulbs themselves and from avoided mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants;
  • Reduce global electricity use by 3%;
  • Avoid 3.5 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions cumulatively between 2025-2050; equivalent to removing all passenger cars globally from the road for a whole year; and
  • Save US$1 trillion on electricity bills.

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