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SYDNEY (Reuters) - Lights went out at tourism landmarks and homes across the globe on Saturday for Earth Hour 2009, a global event designed to highlight the threat from climate change.
From the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge to the Eiffel Tower in Paris and London's Houses of Parliament, lights were dimmed as part of a campaign to encourage people to cut energy use and curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.
Organizers said the action showed millions of people wanted governments to work out a strong new U.N. deal to fight global warming by the end of 2009, even though the global economic crisis has raised worries about the costs.
"We have been dreaming of a new climate deal for a long time," Kim Carstensen, head of a global climate initiative at the conservation group WWF, said in a candle-lit bar in the German city of Bonn, which hosts U.N. climate talks between March 29 and April 8.
"Now we're no longer so alone with our dream. We're sharing it with all these people switching off their lights," he said as delegates and activists sipped bluish cocktails.
The U.N. Climate Panel says greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet and will lead to more floods, droughts, heatwaves, rising sea levels and animal and plant extinctions.
World emissions have risen by about 70 percent since the 1970s. China has recently overtaken the United States as the top emitter, ahead of the European Union, Russia and India.
The U.N. Climate Panel says rich nations will have to cut their emissions to a level between 25 and 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 to avoid the worst effects of warming. Developing nations will also have to slow the rise of their emissions by 2020, it says.
Australia first held Earth Hour in 2007 and it went global in 2008, attracting 50 million people, organizers say. WWF, which started the event, is hoping one billion people from nearly 90 countries will take part.
"The primary reason we do it is because we want people to think, even if it is for an hour, what they can do to lower their carbon footprint, and ideally take that beyond the hour," Earth Hour executive director Andy Ridley told reporters at Sydney's Bondi Beach.
In Asia, lights at landmarks in China, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines were dimmed as people celebrated with candle-lit picnics and concerts.
Buildings in Singapore's business district went dark along with major landmarks such as the Singapore Flyer, a giant observation wheel.
Other global landmarks that switched off their lights included the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, the Reserve Bank in Mumbai, the dome of St Peter's Basilica in Rome, Egypt's Great Pyramids and the Acropolis in Athens.
Reporting by Reuters bureau; Writing by Jon Boyle