U.N. urges global switch to low-energy light bulbs

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - The United Nations on Wednesday urged a global phase-out of old-style light bulbs and a switch to low-energy lighting that it said would save billions of dollars and combat climate change.

About 40 countries already have programs to switch from incandescent light bulbs, the U.N. Environment Program, or UNEP, said in a report issued on the sidelines of U.N. climate talks in Cancun.

Generation of electricity for lighting, often from burning fossil fuels, accounts for about 8 percent of world greenhouse gas emissions, it said. A shift to more efficient bulbs would cut electricity demand for lighting by 2 percent.

A review of 100 nations showed huge potential for savings and carbon cuts from a shift to low-energy bulbs, according to a study backed by UNEP and lighting groups Osram and Philips.

Indonesia, for instance, could save $1 billion a year and cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 8 million tons a year, the equivalent of taking 2 million cars off the road, it said.

It said Brazil could save $2 billion a year, Mexico $900 million, Ukraine $210 million and South Africa $280 million. All would also make big cuts in emissions.

“The actual economic benefits could be even higher,” said Achim Steiner, head of UNEP, who added a switch to efficient lighting in Indonesia would avoid the need to build several coal-fired power stations costing $2.5 billion.”

“Similar findings come from other country assessments,” he added.

He also said the cost calculations did not include health benefits from switching from the use of fossil fuels, including use of kerosene lamps. About 1.8 million deaths a year are linked with indoor air pollution.

“We need to cut the use of kerosene for lighting,” Osram’s Wolfgang Gregor told a news conference. Low-energy bulbs are more expensive but last far longer than conventional incandescent bulbs.

UNEP cautioned there were drawbacks since the most common low-energy compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFL, contain toxic mercury.

It said that countries needed to ensure safe collection and disposal of the light bulbs. “This is a central challenge, especially in developing countries,” it said.

It said that countries including European Union members, the United States, Canada, Australia, Cuba and the Philippines were working on phase-outs of old-style bulbs.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

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