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Saturday, March 10, 2007

EU-wide incandescent light bulb ban by 2010
On Friday, at an EU conference hosted by Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the European Union's leaders announced their intention to ban incandescent light bulbs, for the 490 million people living within the EU's 27 countries, by 2010.

When the Ban The Bulb campaign was founded two years ago such a development seemed a distant dream, and I would like to thank the many people who have helped this historic announcement to come about.

Richard Black from BBC News Online, gave the whole campaign a huge boost by inviting BTB to write a number of comment pieces for BBC New Online's "Green Room".

In the first Green Room article I was able to make the basic case for making better use of the energy saving light bulbs. This publicity resulted in hundreds of people writing letters to their Member of Parliament, as well as to the UK's Department for the Environment (DEFRA), and stimulated a vigorous debate within the UK government.

Mark Kinver and Richard then allowed me to produce a number of follow-up articles for the Green Room slot which addressed the more technical issues associated with the manufacture and use of incandescents and CFLs, the need for strong political leadership and the need to regulate markets in ways which helped to save money, reduce carbon emissions and increase energy security.

Oliver Tickell also wrote an article (about different ways of taxing light bulbs) for the Guardian, during which he calculated the lifetime saving from a single CFL was £100, and I am sure that this number lodged in many brains.

The Energy Saving Trust, Building Research Establishment and the Market Transformation Programme provided credible data which helped to strengthen the win-win-win rationale behind the campaign.

Gerald Strickland, the chief executive of the European Lamp Companies Federation, did what he could to facilitate BTB's constructive engagement with the lighting industry, and I am pretty sure that his skill and tact helped to calm and focus the responses of the major lighting manufacturers such as Philips, GE and Osram to the BTB campaign from Feb 06 onwards.

Leo Hickman generously made, a campaign of the week for The Guardian in Feb 2006, and has followed up on his early support with articles which have explained why it was worth changing light bulbs immediately and asked why the UK couldn't ban incandescents, if Australia could.

Roger Harrabin asked Tony Blair if he would consider banning incandescent light bulbs, following the publication of the UK's Energy Review in July 2006, and was told that the UK had asked the EU to consider an EU-wide ban.

The Germans seem to have ignored or forgotten this request from the UK government but, whatever happened at the EU-level, it is clear that something changed between 21 Feb and 10 Mar 2007.

As recently as 21 Feb 2007, the EU's energy spokesman, Ferran Tarradellas was saying there were no plans to ban domestic light bulbs.

George Monbiot mentioned the idea of banning incandescent light bulbs in his book Heat: How to Stop the Planet Burning, whilst my local member of parliament, Dr Evan Harris MP, proposed an Early Day Motion in support of the campaign which ended up being signed by 44 MPs from 7 political parties. The Oxford Mail also provided valuable local support at the time of the EDM.

Many different people set up supportive petitions on the No. 10 Downing Street website; these petitions typically requested changes in VAT for energy saving goods and service and/or a light bulb ban, and I suspect that light bulbs became one of the most popular topics for petitions on the No. 10 website.

Assembly Member Lloyd Levine from California proposed the "How Many Legislators Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb Act" and called for the banning of incandescents in California by 2012.

This funnily-phrased piece of proposed legislation was a particularly significant development and raised the level of political interest in banning incandescents from 31 Jan 2007. This was partly because the proposal was now well-received, rather than ridiculed, but also because Lloyd's political status could be seen (especially by all politicians!) to have grown as a result of showing some political courage when it came to tackling climate change.

Within three weeks, the Australian environment minister Malcolm Turnbull (who didn't want to sign up to Kyoto but had to be seen to do something about climate change after the worst drought in 100 years) had picked up on the Ban The Bulb proposal which was being prepared, by a co-founder of Planet Ark, John Dee, and light bulb manufacturer, Philips...

Minister Turnbull said that Australia's light bulb ban would be introduced by 2009-2010 and, despite being vague about how a ban would be implemented, removed many of the excuses for inaction which had previously been thrown up by many developed countries, including the UK.

Laura Yates and John Sauven from Greenpeace expressed an interest in supporting the Ban The Bulb campaign, after the ban in Australia, and we had begun to discuss how this might be made to work and the campaign could be adapted for countries such as India.

At around the same time, BBC News 24 asked why Australia had proposed banning incandescents and what could be done in the UK and EU. I suggested that Australia's "can do culture" probably had something to do it, whilst the UK's more instinctive focus on the barriers to change seemed to slow down or block innovative decision-making in the UK/EU.

Andrew Mason a school boy from Scotland and others started to ask politicians such as David Miliband, in ways which couldn't be easily fudged, why the UK hadn't yet introduced a ban.

Matt McGrath interviewed BTB for the BBC World Service on Thursday 8 March and subseqently discovered that domestic light bulbs, and five other technologies, had just been added to the 14 technologies highlighted for legislation in the EU's Action Plan for Energy Efficiency.

This was the first significant indication that a light bulb ban might be announced while the EU's leaders were meeting in Germany... this impression was strengthened by some of the things which were being said about the EU showing leadership and reducing carbon emissions by 20% by 2020... but remained no more than a hunch.

Antony Froggatt helped Caroline Lucas MEP to produce a Written Declaration (based on BTB's research), for Green MEPs to sign and this neatly summarised the case for Europe's leaders to do something decisive... and the rest is now history!

An idea which was once considered radical has become mainstream, and the conversation has already moved on to some of the additional steps which will be required to significantly reduce the atmosphere's carbon dioxide concentration, such as taxing aviation more and increasing the role of renewables in supplying energy.

BTB will continue to monitor how the EU's light bulb ban is implemented and to encourage other countries to take advantage of the carbon, energy and money savings possible from using energy efficient technologies which are already available but which haven't got established yet for one reason or another.

Thanks to Rebecca Blood, Dangerousmeta, Tree Hugger, the National Audit Office (who wrote an excellent report on the cost-effectiveness of energy efficiency in 2005)... and last-but-not least my friends and family in Australia, Holland and the UK.

Things like this don't happen spontaneously or overnight and all of the help and support BTB has received is greatly appreciated.