SYDNEY - Australia has announced plans to ban traditional light bulbs in a move Prime Minister John Howard called a practical step toward slowing climate change.
Claiming a world first for a national government, Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull said incandescent lightbulbs would be phased out by 2010 in favour of the more fuel-efficent compact fluorescent bulbs.
He said replacing the traditional coiled filament bulbs invented by Thomas Edison in the 19th century would cut Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by four million tonnes a year by 2015.
"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," Turnbull said.
"The climate change challenge is a global one. I encourage other countries to follow Australia's lead and make the switch to more energy efficient products like compact fluorescent light bulbs."
Turnbull said the traditional light bulb's lack of efficiency was reflected in the heat it wasted when switched on.
"A normal light bulb is too hot to hold. That heat is wasted and globally represents millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide that neednít have been emitted into the atmosphere if we had used more efficient forms of lighting," he said.
"These more efficient lights, such as the compact fluorescent light bulb, use around 20 percent of the electricity to produce the same amount of light."
Conservative leader Howard, who has softened his sceptical stance on global warming as an election looms later this year and opinion polls show high voter concern on the issue, said he was a "climate change realist".
"I think some of the stuff that's around at the moment is too alarmist," he said. "But on the other hand I think the evidence is very strong that mankind has made a contribution to the warming of our globe."
Howard said households would benefit from the switch to the high-tech fluorescent bulbs.
"They'll be a bit dearer to start off with but over time they'll be less expensive and they'll last four to 10 times longer.
"We need to take practical measures in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."
Green groups and the opposition Labor Party welcomed the move but said the government needed to examine more meaningful ways to reduce global warming, including signing the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions.
"The major producers of greenhouse gas emissions in this country are not individuals, they're governments and business," opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett said.
Australia is believed to be the first national government to look at banning tradtional lightbulbs, although lawmaker Lloyd Levine proposed similar legistion in the US state of California last month.
US energy policy think-tank the Rocky Mountain Institute estimates that replacing a 75-watt incandescent light bulb with a 20-watt compact fluorescent saves 1,300 pounds (590 kilograms) of carbon dioxide over the life of the bulb.
The institute said the average life of a 75-watt incandescent bulb is roughly 750 hours, while the life of an energy-efficient bulb is 10,000 hours.