Deliver on EU's Cop26 promises? Quick phase out of fluorescent lighting can help

(eceee news, 16 Nov 2021) At COP26, the EU pledged accelerated climate action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Endorsing a proposed amendment to accelerate the global transition to energy-efficient LED lighting at the upcoming Minamata Convention on Mercury COP4 will allow the EU to fulfill climate commitments at home and abroad, cutting 3.5 gigatonnes of carbon emissions by 2050 according to estimates by the Clean Lighting Coalition, CLiC.

After two weeks of intense negotiations, the COP26 UN Climate Conference concluded the past weekend, with the European Commission supporting the consensus reached by over 190 countries to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"We have made progress on the three objectives we set at the start of COP26: First, to get commitments to cut emissions to keep within reach the global warming limit of 1.5 degrees,” stated European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in a statement released by the EU Commission. The EU committed to cut emissions by at least 55% by 2030, aiming to become the first region to reach climate neutrality by 2050.

No-cost opportunity to quickly fulfill part of its COP26 commitments

The EU also reaffirmed its commitment to continue support and develop new partnerships, and pledged financial support to help other countries speed their climate transition. The EU already contributes more than a quarter of global climate finance, with over 27 billion dollars each year.

In the coming months, the EU Commission has a unique opportunity to quickly fulfill part of its COP26 climate commitments by accelerating transition to energy-efficient, clean LED lighting through the United Nations Minamata Convention on Mercury. This process starts at home, and as eceee has previously reported, it can be done at a direct societal benefit.

Delayed regulation on mercury-based lighting exemptions

In July 2021 the Commission proposed regulation to phase out mercury based lighting. No significant criticism was aired during the public review period, but the Commission has still not produced a final regulation, to be scrutinized by Parliament. By moving at home, the EU has an unparalleled opportunity to make a global impact. Why is that?

The Minamata Convention is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. The Convention launched in 2013 with the goal to “Make Mercury History” by eliminating the use of mercury in products and processes worldwide.

As of November 2021, 135 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 ban on fluorescents

At the upcoming Minamata Convention Conference of Parties (COP4) in March 2022, the 135 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 special 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.

The EU can support the process in two ways:

  • By acting at home to adopt the RoHS amendments proposed this summer to phase out fluorescent lighting in the EU, a strong signal is sent to the Minamata COP4 to ban mercury-based lighting.
  • As lighting markets in wealthy countries transition to clean LED lighting, less-regulated markets may experience “environmental dumping” of old fluorescent technologies. At the Minamata COP4, the EU can support the proposed amendments by the African region to ensure a global phase-out of fluorescent lighting, eliminating fluorescent lighting at the source by ending the manufacture, export and import of mercury-based lighting products, since the regulation in the EU would only ban the sales in the EU, not manufacture and exports.