Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Minamata Convention on Mercury?

The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. The Convention launched in 2013 with the goal to “Make Mercury History” by eliminating the use of mercury in products and processes worldwide. It is named after the city of Minamata, Japan, where the population experienced widespread mercury poisoning after wastewater from a nearby chemical plant was discharged into Minamata Bay.

The Convention entered into force in 2017 following ratification by 50 countries. As of November 2021, 135 parties have ratified the Convention. Major highlights of the Minamata Convention include a ban on new mercury mines and phase-out of existing ones, the phase-out and phase-down of mercury use in a number of products and processes, control measures on emissions to air and on releases to land and water, and the regulation of the informal sector of artisanal and small-scale gold mining.

Learn more:

What does the Minamata Convention have to do with lighting?

Despite significant progress to reduce mercury, the Minamata Convention includes special exemptions for mercury-based fluorescent lighting products in Annex A of the Convention text. While these fluorescent exemptions may have been necessary in 2013 when the Convention was drafted, lighting technology has moved on rapidly – and today, the accessibility and affordability of mercury-free LED retrofit lamps makes the fluorescent lamp exemption unnecessary.

At the Minamata Convention Conference of Parties (COP4), the 135 Parties have an opportunity to eliminate the fluorescent lamp exemptions by amending Annex A. The African and European regions have both submitted draft amendments on lighting to COP4. Taken together, these Amendments would eliminate the special exemptions for fluorescent lighting, leading to a global phase-out by 2025, accelerating the transition to LED lighting.

What amendments related to lighting have been proposed for COP4?

Both the African region and the European Union have submitted draft amendments to Annex A of the Convention text which apply to mercury-added lighting. These proposals will be discussed at COP 4.2 in March 2022. The African Amendment Proposal calls for the phase-out of manufacture, import and export of virtually all fluorescent lighting by the end of 2025. The European Amendment Proposal calls for the phase-out of manufacture, import, export of halophosphate linear fluorescent lamps by the end of 2023.

What is the African Amendment Proposal on Lighting?

The 36 African countries/Parties to the Minamata Convention, representing the African region, together submitted a proposal to the Secretariat of the Minamata Convention on Mercury that included a proposal to modify the lighting product exemptions in Annex A. Due to the toxic mercury contained in every fluorescent lamp and widespread availability of cost-effective, more energy-efficient LED alternatives which contain no mercury, the proposal calls on the Minamata Convention to phase-out virtually all fluorescent lighting by the end of 2025.

Please click here to view a copy of the African Amendment Proposal submitted to the Minamata Convention on 30 April 2021. The proposed amendments related to lighting are indicated on the first part of the submittal.

What is the scope of the African Amendment Proposal on Lighting?

The proposed amendment covers the most common types of fluorescent lamp, including both compact fluorescent and linear fluorescent lamps. The African region proposes inserting three new rows into the Part I table of Annex A to the Convention which correspond to the same three categories of fluorescent lamps already identified in the Part I table, but which currently only limit the amount of mercury per lamp. The proposal therefore recommends inserting three rows of text into the table that will phase-out the manufacture, import and export: (1) all integrally ballasted CFLs (CFL.i) by the end of 2024; (2) all linear fluorescent lamps (LFL) by the end of 2025; and (3) all cold-cathode and external-electrode fluorescent lamps (CCFL and EEFL) by the end of 2024. Below is the table from the proposed African lighting amendment:

What are the global benefits of the proposed African Lighting Amendment?

As lighting markets in wealthy countries shift to clean LED lighting, less-regulated markets may experience “environmental dumping” of old fluorescent technologies. Many of the OECD countries have passed or are considering policies that will ban the sale of mercury-laden, inefficient lighting products in their domestic markets, however they would still be allow domestic manufacture and export to less developed and emerging markets. This puts the public and environmental health of those countries at risk. The proposed amendments by the African region would ensure a global phase-out of fluorescent lighting, eliminating fluorescent lighting at the source by ending the manufacture, export and import of mercury-based lighting products.

Additionally, if adopted, the cumulative (2025-2050) global benefits of the African Lighting Amendment would be significant:

  • Eliminate 232 tonnes of mercury pollution from the environment, both from the light bulbs themselves and from avoided mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants;
  • Reduce global electricity use by 3%;
  • Avoid 3.5 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions cumulatively between 2025-2050; equivalent to removing all passenger cars globally from the road for a whole year; and
  • Save US$1 trillion on electricity bills.
How does the African Amendment proposal on lighting align with African government’s policy?

As a supplement to the African Amendment Proposal on Lighting, the Region included 9 pages of justification for the proposal (called “Annex II” in the African Region’s Submission to the Secretariat). That document identifies numerous policy initiatives across the African Continent that are working to improve the efficiency of lighting and appliances, and many governments are already moving to phase-out CFLs and LFLs through energy-efficiency policy measures.  There are twenty-one countries in UNIDO’s Energy Efficient Lighting and Appliances project developing and adopting harmonised lighting performance standards which will phase-out CFLs and LFLs through the minimum efficacy (lumen/Watt) requirement – fluorescent lamp isn’t efficient enough to pass. One of Africa’s largest economic trading blocks – the Southern African Development Community – recently adopted SADC HT-109:2021, which is poised to phase out CFLs and LFLs in the region over the next few years.

Additionally, South Africa is working to phase out CFL and transition to LED, while the six nations of the East African Community are adopting regional lighting regulations that will phase-out all fluorescent lamps, moving these markets to mercury-free LED. Burkina Faso, Gabon and many other countries have strategies to support energy-efficiency measures in their national energy policies.

What is the European Union Lighting Amendment?

On 30 April 2021, the European Union (EU) submitted a proposal to the Minamata Convention on Mercury including several suggested revisions to the exemptions in Annexes A and B. One of the amendments proposed by the EU focuses on lighting. The proposed European Union Lighting Amendment aims to phase-out of manufacture, import, export of halophosphate linear fluorescent lamps in 2023.

Please click here to view a copy of the European Proposal submitted to the Minamata Convention.  The amendment proposal on Lighting is contained in the first part of the submittal, in the table on page 5.

How does the European Amendment Proposal align with EU domestic lighting policies?

Through draft and existing regulations, the European Commission is currently phasing-out all general purpose fluorescent lighting. In October 2019, the EU adopted an Ecodesign regulation (EU No 2019/2020) that phases-out approximately half of the fluorescent lamps – including T8 and T12 linear fluorescent and compact fluorescent lamps. In June 2021, the EU proposed to phase-out all the remaining fluorescent lamps under a draft revision to the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive. While these domestic regulations will create lower-cost, healthier and better lighting for people living in the EU, they would still allow factories in the EU to manufacture and export fluorescent lamps for sale to other markets around the world.

The EU lighting amendment proposal does not propose to phase out the same products in the Ecodesign regulation or those currently proposed under the RoHS Directive.  Rather, the proposal from the EU only covers halophosphate lamps which can immediately be replaced by mercury-containing tri-band phosphor fluorescent lamps in the same sockets, thus mercury would continue to persist in lighting markets.

Is the global market ready to transition to LED by 2025?

Yes – the time to say ‘farewell to fluorescent’ is now. The CEO of the world’s largest lighting company, Signify/Philips, recently called on governments around the world to accelerate the transition to LED lighting. He recognizes that this will not only bring public health benefits through the elimination of mercury, but the significant energy savings will contribute significant CO2 savings, helping to achieve the world’s targets of the Paris Agreement and COP26.

And the switch to LED retrofit lamps is highly cost-effective. For general purpose lamps, LED lamps today are the same price or in many markets cheaper than the compact fluorescent lamps they were designed to replace. For the linear tubes, LED retrofit lamps are also highly cost effective – paying back the initial purchase cost in a matter of a few months, and then saving that business significant amounts of money over time through lower energy bills. The following screen capture from the OSRAM/LEDVANCE website points to the fact that payback periods can be as short as four months.

How can governments support a global phase-out of mercury-containing fluorescent lighting products by 2025?

Governments that are Parties to the Minamata Convention on Mercury can adopt both the EU and African Amendment proposals at the upcoming Convention of Parties (COP 4.2) in Bali, Indonesia, 21-25 March 2022. The two amendments are complementary and will support a global transition to clean, mercury-free LED lighting.

At the national level, governments can utilise CLiC’s Market Transformation Toolkit. The Toolkit is a resource for governments aiming to accelerate the transition to LED lighting in their national markets – including five key components:

As OECD governments ban toxic fluorescent lighting due to the mercury content, government officials in the rest of the world must protect their lighting markets from becoming dumping grounds for these banned products. In un- and under-regulated markets, fluorescent lamps are still the market leaders. This CLiC Market Transformation Toolkit contains a wide range of suggested interventions including draft policies, initiatives and programmes that governments can launch that will push, pull and support a sustained transition toward energy-efficient LED lighting.

Check out our Market Transformation Toolkit!

Can LED retrofit lamps be installed directly into fluorescent fixtures?

Yes, there are tens of thousands of mercury-free LED lamps that are available and have been designed specifically to replace fluorescent tubes in existing fluorescent fixtures. LED retrofit lamps are designed to fit into existing fluorescent fixtures to minimise inconvenience and avoid the need for rewiring. The types of LED retrofit tubes available now include lamps that can be installed directly into fixtures with a magnetic (“choke”) ballast and starter as well as electronic (“high-frequency”) ballast. For magnetic ballasts, the LED tubes are 100% compatible and can operate directly on those ballasts. For the electronic ballasts, the LED tubes are 80-90% compatible from most suppliers, and from some manufacturers, even higher. For the small percentage of ballasts which are not compatible, installers have the option of by-passing the ballasts or retrofitting an LED driver – both options allow the old fluorescent fixture to continue to be used, reducing waste and saving cost.

The figure below presents some marketing material from Sylvania, which offers a T8 retrofit solution it describes as “ideal for upgrading fluorescent fixtures to LED.”  That product operates “with a ballast or directly online voltage” for a high degree of flexibility, making these lamps ideal for upgrading fluorescent installations to LED.

Are LED lamps safe to use in my home or office?

Yes, the lighting industry has worked hard through the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to develop safety standards for LED retrofit lamps. Just like any other electrical product placed on the market, lighting products that comply with these safety standards are safe to install and use, and will not pose any undue safety concerns while in use.

These safety standards have been in place for years and have been updated by the standardisation community as the technology has progressed. The IEC safety standard for self-ballasted LED lamps for general lighting services is IEC 62560:2011 and the IEC safety standard for linear LED retrofit tubes is IEC 62776:2014.