SYDNEY, Australia – Australia is switching off the lights to help the environment.
The federal government on Tuesday announced a plan to phase out incandescent light bulbs and replace them with more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs across the country — a move that Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said was a world's first.
In fact, Australia is not the first country to make the switch to energy-efficient lighting. Cuba's Fidel Castro launched a similar program two years ago which later inspired close friend and ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez to launch his own light bulb giveaway scheme.
Legislation to gradually restrict the sale of the old-style bulbs could reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 4 million tons by 2012 and cut household power bills by up to 66 percent, Turnbull said.
Australia produced almost 565 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2004, official figures show.
"It's a little thing, but it's a massive change," Turnbull told Nine Network television on Tuesday.
"If the rest of the world ... follows our lead, this will reduce an amount of energy to the tune of five times as much energy as Australia consumes," he said.
Electricity flows through a filament in incandescent lights to create light. Much of the energy, however, is wasted in the form of heat.
Under Turnbull's plan, bulbs that do not comply with energy efficiency targets would be gradually banned from sale. Exemptions may apply for special needs such as medical lighting and oven lights.
Fluorescent bulbs are currently more expensive than incandescent bulbs, but use only about 20 percent of the power to produce the same amount of light and last longer, making them more competitive over time, advocates argue.
Environmentalists welcomed the light bulb plan, but said it was a drop in the bucket of what was needed, since the vast bulk of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions come from industry, such as coal-fired power stations.
They urged the government to go much further by setting national targets for emission reductions and renewable energy.
"It is a good, positive step. But it is a very small step. It needs to be followed through with a lot of different measures," Australian Conservation Foundation spokesman Josh Meadows told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Prime Minister John Howard said the plan would help all Australians play a part in cutting the country's harmful gas emissions.
"Here's something practical that everybody will participate in," Howard told ABC radio.
Howard has become a global warming convert, conceding in recent months for the first time that human activity is having an effect on rising temperatures.
But he has steadfastly refused to bring Australia into line with most of the world and ratify the Kyoto protocol on greenhouse gas reductions, arguing that doing so could damage Australia's coal-dependent economy.
The environment is expected to be a key issue in federal elections due later this year. The Labor opposition says Howard's government is not doing enough to respond to climate change.