NZ becomes first country for Earth Hour lights out

WELLINGTON (Xinhua) — New Zealand and Fiji on Saturday became the first countries to take part in Earth Hour, an event aimed at reducing emissions that contribute to climate change.    A total of 24 cities around the world are officially involved, although people from 370 different towns and cities have registered to be a part of the event.

    New Zealand’s third largest city of Christchurch and Fiji’s capital of Suva kicked off the event at 8:00 p.m. local time (0700GMT) on Saturday, with 22 other official cities joining in as their time zones reach 8:00 p.m.

    Those taking part are asked to turn off lights and switch unnecessary appliances off at the wall, to raise awareness about climate change.

    Christchurch is New Zealand’s official Earth Hour city although many people in other cities have registered to take part.

    People across Christchurch switched off in a big way for Earth Hour on Saturday evening. Hundreds of New Zealanders gathered in Cathedral Square as Mayor Bob Parker switched off the lights of the Cathedral at 8:00 p.m., and the city powered down for Earth Hour.

    Meanwhile, thousands more across the city switched off their lights enjoying candle-lit celebrations at home, and at the many bars and restaurants that took part in Earth Hour.

    Power company Orion confirmed Christchurch saved 13.1 percent electricity during Earth Hour — an astounding achievement which Chris Howe, Executive Director of WWF-New Zealand, said was proof of the difference individuals can make when they act together.

    “Christchurch has really set a high standard for the rest of the world to live up to as Earth Hour rolls out around the world tonight. New Zealand can be inspired by what Christchurch has done tonight,” he said.

    The atmosphere in Cathedral Square was buzzing with positivity, and a sense of pride in Christchurch being the first city in New Zealand to commit to Earth Hour was highlighted by Mayor Bob Parker.

    Families brought their children down to the event, some as young as four, to see the lights go down.

    “The atmosphere there was fabulous,” said Earth Hour youth ambassador, Susan Smirk who was in the Cathedral Square at the lights went down.

    “People were really enjoying it. It felt very much like a community event.”

    People across New Zealand took part in Earth Hour, with Wellington and Auckland both dimming lights on landmarks. In New Zealand’s largest city of Auckland, the five star Langham Hotel swapped chandeliers for 3,000 candles in its lobby. The 328-meter high Sky Tower turned off lights between 8:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m.

    While Earth Hour’s short-term goal is a 5 percent drop in power use for the hour, its main message is to show that joining the ongoing fight against climate change does not need to be difficult.

    The idea is promoted by the Worldwide Fund for Nature. Its climate change manager Dairne Poole says Earth Hour is symbolic but climate change is very real.

    The campaign aims to show how small actions can make a difference to global warming.

    The first Earth Hour was in Sydney last year.

    There 2 million residents switched off their lights and major landmarks including the Sydney Opera House were darkened, reducing power consumption by 10 percent.