THIS weekend Oxford City Council will turn off all “non-essential” lights in a bid to tackle global warming.

But Green campaigners say it begs the question: why are lights burning in the first place if they are not needed?

Especially as the authority employs a climate change officer at a cost of £44,000 a year.

The council will switch off redundant lights and equipment as part of the global environmental event called Earth Hour.

But Green group leader David Williams branded the move a “token gesture”.

He said: “If we can turn lights off and still carry on then why were they on in the first place?”

Mr Williams said he was not against symbolic action, but the drive to tackle climate change was in danger of stalling if it failed to recognise the scale of the issue.

He said: “We’ve had this for 10 years now and it cannot carry on.

“We must expand and do large – and I emphasise the word large – scale projects involving everyone in Oxford.

“We need real action not just symbolic action. Where is the insulation and the solar panels on the Town Hall roof?”

The city council took part in the Earth Hour last year and reduced electricity use by nine per cent across its five main sites, representing a saving of 1,577KWh.

That is about enough electricity to power a small house for a year.

Council spokesman Louisa Dean said the council’s drive to save energy was not limited to one weekend.

She said: “We always encourage all our staff to switch off non-essential lights and appliances before they leave at the end of every day.

“We have also lent our support to a national campaign which reminds them of the impact of simple actions that they can make.

“Earth Hour takes place on Saturday evening, so we are encouraging staff to switch off and show their support at home as well as work.”

John Tanner, the executive member for a cleaner, greener Oxford, added: “Earth Hour is another reminder to save energy and save the planet. I hope everyone in Oxford will switch off lights, turn down thermostats and spend less on electricity and gas.”

Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia, when 2.2 million people turned their lights off for one hour to take a stand against climate change.

Now more than 50 million people take part each year.

Last year, an Oxford Mail survey revealed almost half of businesses in Cornmarket Street were leaving their lights on through the night.

Critics blasted the practice saying it wasted energy and money, and placed an unnecessary burden on the environment.

The investigation was sparked by reader Maureen Pitson, from Wolvercote, who drew our attention to lights which had been left on day and night at Borders in Magdalen Street.

The store had been illuminated 24 hours a day even though the bookstore chain had ceased trading three months earlier.

Ms Pitson described the lights being left on as a “shocking waste”.

But some shops in the survey claimed it was prudent to leave lights on for security and advertising purposes.