By Madeleine Coorey
SYDNEY (AFP) - Twenty-six major cities around the world are expected to turn off the lights on major landmarks, plunging millions of people into darkness to raise awareness about global warming, organisers said.
'Earth Hour' founder Andy Ridley said 371 cities, towns or local governments from Australia to Canada and even Fiji had signed up for the 60-minute shutdown at 0900 GMT on March 29.
"There are definitely 26 (cities) that we think, if it all goes to plan, we are going to see a major event of lights going off," he told AFP.
Cities officially signed on include Chicago and San Francisco, Dublin, Manila, Bangkok, Copenhagen and Toronto, all of which will switch off lights on major landmarks and encourage businesses and homeowners to follow suit.
Ridley said it was also likely that other major European cities such as Rome and London, and the South Korean capital Seoul, although not officially taking part, would turn off lights on some attractions or landmarks.
The initiative began in Sydney last year and has become a global event, sweeping across 35 countries this year.
From 8:00 pm local time in Sydney, the energy-saving campaign will see harbourside icons such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House bathed only in moonlight, restaurant diners eat by candlelight and city skyscrapers turn off their neon signs.
Organisers hope the initiative will encourage people to be more aware of their energy usage, knowing that producing electricity pollutes the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels which are contributing to global warming.
But they are also aware that it will be just a small step in solving the problem of rising temperatures around the globe.
"Switching the lights off for an hour is not going to make a dent in global emissions," organiser Charles Stevens, of the environmental group WWF, told AFP.
"But what it does do is it is a great catalyst for much bigger changes. It engages people in the processes of becoming more energy efficient."
Stevens said the initiative encouraged businesses to be more careful with their electricity use while at the same time sending "a fairly powerful message to governments that people are demanding action."
Some 2.2 million people participated in last year's 'Earth Hour' in Sydney, cutting the central business district's energy usage by more than 10 percent.
While no cities from China or India are involved this year, Stevens said it was hoped that the movement would expand in 2009, which he said would be a particularly significant year given that it is the deadline for United Nations talks to determine future action on climate change after the Kyoto Protocol.
Ridley, who began 'Earth Hour' last year while working with WWF Australia, said the initiative was about individuals and global companies joining together to own a shared problem -- climate change.
"Governments and businesses are joining individuals, religious groups, schools and communities in this terrific movement that's all about making a change for the better," he said.
"It's staggering to see so much support from across the globe in just our second year and we're hoping that this will continue to grow year after year."
Cities officially involved in 'Earth Hour' include Aalborg, Aarhus, Adelaide, Atlanta, Bangkok, Brisbane, Canberra, Chicago, Christchurch, Copenhagen, Darwin, Dublin, Hobart, Manila, Melbourne, Montreal, Odense, Ottawa, Perth, Phoenix, San Francisco, Suva, Sydney, Tel Aviv, Toronto and Vancouver.Click here for the article.