Q. How many Australians does it take to change all the light bulbs?

A. One - Prime Minister John Howard, who banned incandescent light bulbs yesterday, making Australia the first country to take such direct action to stop global warming

A A A

After almost a decade as a pariah in the battle against global warming because of its refusal to join the Kyoto Protocol, Australia scored an environmental first yesterday by becoming the only large economy to ban the traditional incandescent lightbulb.

In a move that environmentalists hope will spark a similar move in Britain, the government Down Under said the sale of all incandescent bulbs will be phased out by 2010 and replaced with low-energy versions to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

The enforced switch to new high-efficiency fluorescent bulbs will cut Australia's carbon emissions by four million tons by 2012 and reduce domestic power bills by up to two-thirds, the Environment Minister, Bill Turnbull, claimed. Mr Turnbull, whose right-of-centre government is a recent convert to action on global warming, said: "It's a little thing but it's a massive change. If the whole world switches to these bulbs today we would reduce our consumption of electricity by an amount equal to five times Australia's annual consumption of electricity."

The initiative follows a study by the International Energy Agency last year which found that a global switch to fluorescent bulbs would prevent 16 billion tons of carbon dioxide being pumped into the world's atmosphere over the next 25 years. It would also save £1,300bn in energy costs.

Traditional incandescent bulbs, based on the 19th-century designs of Thomas Edison and Joseph Swan, produce light by passing electricity through a thin wire filament. They are inefficient because up to 90 per cent of the energy is wasted in the form of heat. The new generation of compact fluorescent bulbs are more expensive that the incandescent version but use only 20 per cent of the power to produce the same amount of light. Manufacturers say economies of scale mean they will soon be comparable in price to traditional bulbs and last much longer.

Artificial light accounts for almost 20 per cent of world's electricity consumption, significantly more than the output of all nuclear power stations in the world. Overall, lighting generates 1.9 billion tons of carbon a year, about three-quarters of the amount produced by all cars on the planet.

Australia is the first major economy to ban incandescent bulbs, although the American state of California is also considering a similar move.

But it is not first time a country has made an enforced switch to energy-efficient lighting: Cuba launched a similar scheme two years ago.

In Britain, the Government has yet to move far beyond a symbolic gesture to low-energy lighting by Tony Blair when he ordered the bulb in the lamp outside Number 10 to be changed to a fluorescent one. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said it was working within a European Union scheme to promote the use of low-energy products within the home.

The reductions in greenhouse emissions from moving to low-energy bulbs are nonetheless small. The four million tons of CO2 that the Australian government expects to save must be compared with the 565 million tons that it produces annually.

Despite the recent conversion of the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, to environmental issues, he has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. Mr Howard said the deal would do too much damage to Australia's coal-based energy production.

But campaigners welcomed the ban on incandescent bulbs as one of a number of concrete measures which all countries, including Britain, should be taking as part of their response to global warming.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) said a wholesale conversion to fluorescent bulbs would cut UK electricity consumption by 2 per cent - equivalent to a large power station. Nick Rau, FoE's energy campaigner, said: "We would certainly like to see Britain follow the Australian example. There is no magic bullet for global warming and switching to low-energy bulbs is one significant step among many that we would like to see the Government take."

The failure to achieve a global swap from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs has been a source of frustration and bemusement to experts and campaigners.

The Lighting Industry Federation in Britain estimates that the majority of lights in this country still use inefficient bulbs despite an average reduction of 30 per cent in electricity bills from using low-energy bulbs.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telemarketers / Sales - Home Based - OTE £23,500

£19500 - £23500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced B2B Telemarketer wa...

Recruitment Genius: Showroom Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This global company are looking for two Showro...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor