By Vesela Todorova

DUBAI // The lights of the Burj Khalifa will go out and cities across the nation will be plunged into darkness this evening as the UAE’s landmark buildings join the Eiffel Tower, Sydney Opera House and New York’s Times Square in observing the biggest climate change awareness event in the world.

Earth Hour strikes at 8.30pm, when lights at the Burj al Arab, the Eye of the Emirates in Sharjah, the Fujairah Fort and Etisalat buildings across the country will also be extinguished.

In Abu Dhabi, the Sheikh Zayed Bridge, Emirates Palace and the headquarters of the developer, Aldar, will also turn off inessential lights for an hour.

The number of private companies participating in the event has risen to 250 this year from 200 last year, with several government organisations also observing the occasion.

Thousands are expected to gather this afternoon to join walks to mark the event in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah and Fujairah.

Members of the public are urged to go even further, abstaining from using their electric appliances for one hour.

“The very important message of Earth Hour this year is to go beyond it,” said Ida Tillisch, the acting director general of the Emirates Wildlife Society – World Wide Fund for Nature (EWS-WWF).

“We are not going to achieve any change if we turn off our lights for an hour and then forget about it.”

The environmentalists are urging companies and members of the public to make a “green pledge” today, to be kept up for the rest of the year.

Among the 20 UAE companies to have taken up the challenge is Cannon Middle East, which has invited its employees to commit to the effort. So far, 75 out of nearly 90 employees in its Dubai office have taken the pledge.

“People are promising things such as using energy-efficient light bulbs, using public transport and recycling,” said Jorge Luis Obrador, the regulatory and environmental specialist at the company.

In Abu Dhabi, the day’s events begin at 10.30am at the Fairmont Bab Al Bahr hotel. Guests have been invited to help generate electricity by riding a bike at a converted eco-lounge area, installed in the lobby for the occasion.

A lantern walk will take place at 6.45pm on the Abu Dhabi Corniche, across the street from Spinneys supermarket, organised by EWS-WWF in conjunction with Abu Dhabi Municipality.

Dubai Drums and the Abu Dhabi Choral Group will perform after the 20-minute walk in the countdown to during Earth Hour.

In Dubai, a traditional bazaar opens at 5pm at Burj Khalifa Plaza, organised by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.

At Festival City, EWS-WWF will hold an exhibition of green lifestyle ideas, as well as a floating lantern celebration from 8.30pm.

In Sharjah, celebrations centre on Al Qasba, while the recycling company Bee’ah are asking residents to bring in paper, aluminium cans and plastic to have the energy they are saving quantified.