Beginning next October, under a three-step plan, imports and sales of incandescent bulbs 100 watts and higher will be prohibited. That will be followed by an additional ban on imports and sales of such bulbs 60 watts and above starting Oct. 1, 2014.
The final phase, which begins Oct. 1, 2016, applies to incandescent light bulbs 15 watts and higher.
Beijing plans to evaluate the program for one year beginning September 2015 and may adjust the last phase depending on the results.
Xie Ji, deputy director of the National Development and Reform Commission's environmental department said the light bulb plan underscores China's determination to save energy, reduce emissions and curb climate change, state-run news agency Xinhua reports.
Lighting accounts for 12 percent of China's total electricity use.
In its latest five-year plan, which concludes in 2015, China said it would reduce energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product by 16 percent and cut carbon emissions 17 percent.
The plan to phase out incandescent light bulbs, NDRC estimates, will save China 48 billion kilowatt hours of power annually.
China is the world's largest producer of both energy-saving and incandescent light bulbs, NDRC says. In 2010, production of standard bulbs totaled 3.85 billion units, with domestic sales accounting for 1.07 billion units.
"I think what's important … is that China is joining an international trend," Christophe Bahuet, deputy country director of the U.N. Development Program was quoted as saying by The Guardian newspaper reports. "It also sends a signal that will inspire others."
However, Bahuet said, the initiative will require a lot of effort at the provincial and local levels to convince the Chinese people to switch to the energy-saving bulbs.
China's move follows similar decisions by Australia, the European Union and Brazil. Incandescent bulbs account for 50-70 percent of worldwide sales of light bulbs, says the Global Environment Facility, an investment organization that funds environmental projects.
Statistics from China's State Administration for Industry and Commerce indicate that currently 40 percent of the country's energy-saving lights meet the required quality standard, with the percentage as low as 20 percent in some areas.
An editorial in Monday's China Daily newspaper warns that Beijing's new plan fails to address environmental problems associated with disposal of energy-saving bulbs, noting that if the mercury from one such bulb leaks and seeps into the ground it could pollute about 1,800 tons of underground water.