Delegates from 147 countries at the Minamata Convention on Mercury Fifth Conference of Parties (COP5), have agreed to phase out florescent lighting globally and completely by 2027. Fluorescent lamps contain mercury, a potent neurotoxin.
The decision will accelerate the global adoption of LEDs by effectively putting an end to the fluorescent lighting industry, with the limited exception of special uses like some transport applications. LEDs are on average 40% more energy efficient than fluorescents.
COP5 decisions primarily addressed linear fluorescent lamps (LFLs), the largest contributor to lighting-based mercury pollution in the world, ubiquitously found in offices, stores, and other commercial settings and institutions.
LFLs are also a major source of energy-related CO2 emissions. The decisions close the loop on continued efforts to stop the manufacture, export, and import of mercury in lighting worldwide.
The benefits of a full transition to LEDs by 2027 are massive. The appliance efficiency expert group CLASP estimates the move will have the following benefits (cumulatively from the phase-out dates to 2050):
- Avoid 2.7 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions
- Eliminate 158 tonnes of mercury pollution, both from the light bulbs themselves and from avoided mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants
- Save US$1.13 trillion on electricity bills
The move complements decisions at Minamata COP4 in March 2022 to phase out compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), lamps commonly found in homes, by 2025. Proposals to phase out fluorescents at COP4 and COP5 were introduced by delegates from Africa.
“I was pleased to see a high spirit of collaboration amongst the Parties as related to matters concerning mercury lighting,” said Itsuki Kuroda, co-chair for COP5 proceedings and the delegate from Japan. “Parties were able to align on phase-out dates for all fluorescent categories, representing a positive example of successful diplomacy on the world stage.”
Fluorescent lighting contains mercury, a toxic chemical that threatens the health of people and the planet. Most fluorescents are improperly disposed of into general waste streams; broken bulbs pollute land and water, and increase health risks in vulnerable populations like children, pregnant people, and waste workers.
“The mercury-free lighting community came together to achieve a significant feat in the fight against mercury-added products. Putting a stop to all lighting-related mercury pollution will have wide-reaching benefits for our communities, ecosystems, and for the generations to come. We congratulate the governments and are pleased to join them in saying ‘Farewell to Fluorescents,’” said Elena Lymberidi-Settimo, International Co-coordinator of the Zero Mercury Working Group.
LED lamps pay for themselves quickly in energy savings. Recent global analysis indicates that payback periods for LED alternatives to LFLs are improving, from an average of 6.3 months in 2022 to 2.4 months in 2023.