Phase-out inefficient light bulbs & stop buying products that spur deforestation: key global warming actions to implement at Earth Summit 2012 (Part 2)

[This is a part of a series of posts on some key global warming and clean energy actions that should be taken at the Earth Summit 2012 happening in Rio de Janeiro next June.  Part 1 considered efforts to phase-out fossil fuel subsidies and deploy renewable energy.]

Phasing out fossil-fuel subsides and deploying renewable energy are just a couple of the tangible actions that NRDC outlined in its views on what world leaders, CEOs, and citizens should accomplish at the Earth Summit 2012 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  They are just a handful of the concrete actions that should be implemented and committed to next year.  Here are a couple of additional global warming and clean energy actions that can be taken over the next seven months on the “Road to Rio” that are both achievable and could help to reduce carbon pollution.  

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Electricity for lighting is responsible for 19 percent of total end use electrical consumption and 6 percent of global warming pollution.  So any effort to improve the efficiency of how we light our homes, offices, businesses, etc will have a significant impact on global warming.  According to the UN Environment Program, switching from inefficient incandescent lights to more efficient light bulbs such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) would achieve annual CO2 reductions of 246 million tons – equal to the emissions of 61 million mid size cars. 

Switching to more efficient light bulbs is estimated to save around $47 billion in direct energy savings.  In addition, by shifting to CFLs the world could avoid the need to build the equivalent of 136 coal-fired power plants and thus avoid the large financial investments necessary to build this amount of plants – estimated at $113 billion.  This shift would save consumers money, reduce the needed investments in electricity plants, and reduce both carbon and air pollution.  This is a win-win-win for consumers, governments, and the climate system so why wouldn’t countries implement commitments to phase-out inefficient light bulbs (see the benefits for over 100 countries)?

A growing number of countries are starting to realize these benefits and have passed laws or regulations to phase-out inefficient light bulbs.  For example, a US law will go into effect in 2014 which sets minimum energy efficiency levels for all light bulbs, the EU has passed a law requiring the phase-out of inefficient incandescent bulbs by 2012, Argentina has banned the import and sale of incandescent lights, Australia is already beginning its phase-out of inefficient light bulbs, and Mexico has agreed to new efficiency standards for light bulbs with a ban on inefficient incandescent bulbs.   At the Earth Summit in Rio more countries and companies should commit to phase out inefficient light bulbs through the establishment of minimum energy efficiency standards that reduce energy use of new bulbs by at least 65 percent.

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Deforestation accounts for over 15 percent of the world’s global warming pollution – about the same as the emissions from all the cars, trucks, planes, and trains in the world.  As a result, addressing the global warming pollution from deforestation is an essential component of efforts to battle climate change.  In many countries, there is a strong connection between certain commodities and deforestation.  For example, pasture expansion to produce beef cattle is the main agent of deforestation in Brazil, occupying more than three-quarters of the deforested area.  Brazil is the largest exporter of beef, leather, and soy products.  Therefore, some globally purchased products from Brazil can be a driver of deforestation.  Similarly, in Indonesia palm oil expansion has been the largest driver of deforestation.  Palm oil appears in lots of different commodities from beverages to candy to cosmetics.  By some estimates up to 50% of packaged retail food products now contain palm oil and demand may rise in the coming years.  Likewise, wood and wood products imported into a country may be coming from illegal logging that is driving deforestation. 

While not all beef, soy, palm, lumber, or wood products drive deforestation, every time you buy something at a store there is a chance that it could be helping to fuel deforestation unless the company providing the product has implemented a commitment to ensure that it is from sources not linked to deforestation.  When consumers buy a commodity they don’t want it to be produced from unsustainable or illegal sources, and companies don’t want the reputational risk that comes from being associated with deforestation.  So why wouldn’t they commit to only buy commodities that come from non-deforested land and legal sources?   

A growing number of companies and countries are looking at their supply chain and imports to avoid being a driver of deforestation.  For example, through targeted pressure from NGOs, the large Brazilian beef and soy companies committed to secure a “moratorium” where they agree to not buy beef and soy from land that is deforested.  And a growing number of countries are requiring that all wood and wood products coming into their country come from legal sources.  At the Earth Summit in Rio key corporations must commit to avoid purchasing products that cause deforestation and more countries should commit to adopt, implement, and enforce requirements that all imported wood and wood products come from legal sources.


CFL photo: courtesy of Not Quite a Photographr; Deforestation photo: Backcountry Madagascar, courtesy of World Resources Institute