03/28/2015 09:55 EDT | Updated 05/28/2015 05:59 EDT

Earth Hour: Canadians dim lights from coast to coast

Canadians joined millions around the world Saturday night in turning off their lights to mark Earth Hour, celebrating the eighth year of the annual event.

But as participation appeared to be on the decline in recent years, supporters emphasized the goal was to raise awareness of climate change — 24 hours a day.

"Every passing year it becomes more infectious," said Ontario Environment Minister Glen Murray in a phone interview. "It's actually really doing what it intended to do, which is to get into the popular culture.

"It's not just government and environmental groups who are talking about climate awareness, but it's also companies and industries, your local pub, your local brewery."

Nova Scotia reported a 0.5 per cent drop in usage Saturday night as residents dimmed their lights between 8:30 and 9:30 p.m. local time.

Earth Hour was launched in Australia in 2007 as a way to draw attention to environmental issues including climate change. It has grown to a worldwide event involving 162 countries.

The main organizer, the World Wildlife Fund, said more than a third of Canadians participated in Earth Hour last year.

Enthusiasm waning?

But enthusiasm appears to have waned over the years. BC Hydro, for example, said last year British Columbians reduced the provincial electricity load by one per cent.

That's the equivalent of turning off about 1.4 million lights, but it's a dip from the 1.8 per cent reduction reported in 2011.

Murray told The Canadian Press the federal Conservatives have been "pretty disengaged" on climate change.

He said Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia are meeting timeframes for emission reductions set by the Kyoto protocol, from which the federal government has withdrawn.

"We don't want to pick a fight with the federal government, just on things like climate change they haven't been part of the conversation internationally," Murray said in a phone interview.

"It's really shifted to the provinces and the cities and the municipalities in Canada who are now taking the lead role."

Federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

David Miller, president and CEO of WWF Canada, said individuals, businesses, cities and countries are making changes to fight the most devastating impacts of climate change.

"The true impact of Earth Hour is how change is happening outside the hour, in everyday actions and decisions," he said in a statement.

"WWF is working here in Canada and around the world to ensure that change comes fast enough."