Earth Hour went digital amid coronavirus pandemic – but still broke records

Image: WWF

Coordinated by WWF and having taken part between 8.30pm and 9.30pm on Saturday (28 March), Earth Hour saw millions of lights switched off at landmarks, business buildings and in homes in a symbolic stand against issues such as climate change, air pollution and deforestation.

In its 13-year history, Earth Hour has typically seen crowds gather at landmarks such as Tower Bridge, the Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower, the Sydney Opera House and the Toyko Skytree to watch their lights go out. Peaceful demonstrations and gatherings in which attendees collectively organise climate action are also encouraged.

But this year, due to the social distancing measures put in place by nations and states across the world to minimise the spread of Covid-19, WWF took the decision to move Earth Hour online. Participants were encouraged to turn their lights off as usual, then spend the hour watching educational livestreams, organising future events digitally, petitioning online or calling for climate action on social media using the #EarthHour tag.

The NGO has revealed that the campaign received support in 190 nations – the highest number recorded to date – despite the change. In comparison, Earth Hour was supported in 170 nations last year.

Moreover, #EarthHour received more than 3.1 billion impressions on Twitter, while more than 100 landmarks went ahead with their switch-offs – around the same number as in 2019.

WWF International’s director general Marco Lambertini said the success of this year’s event “is a testimony to the incredible human spirit and the power of collective action”, and praised the “unflinching commitment” to sustainability of participants.

Lasting impact

In order to generate lasting behaviour change in the wake of Earth Hour, WWF is encouraging participants to sign an online petition for governments to adopt a “New Deal for Nature and People”, and to make a pledge to change one or more of their daily habits. Options like shifting to a plant-based diet, switching to a renewable energy tariff and taking part in local nature restoration activities are provided.

In light of the uptick in community-centred volunteering due to the pandemic, the NGO is also urging participants to couple their work to improve society with habits that benefit nature in the long-term.

A WWF blog post published this week states: “During the following days, help each other while helping the planet! Help the most vulnerable population by offering to shop or go to the pharmacy for them if you are going anyway, taking their dog for a walk, or helping them connect digitally to their loved ones…

“Most importantly, speak to your family and friends about the future of our planet. How will you change your behaviour post-Covid19 that will have a positive impact on the planet?”

One of the popular behaviour changes being discussed at present is working from home or switching to active travel locally – a change which has contributed sizeably to reductions in air pollution and emissions in nations with strict lockdown procedures.

Recognising this in the UK, the Department for Transport’s (DfT) policy paper on the development of a net-zero strategy for the nation’s highest-emitting sector, published late last week, states that Ministers will develop policies which ensure active travel and public transport are the “natural first choice” for short-distance journeys. The full plan is due to be published this autumn, ahead of COP26 in November.

Sarah George

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