A Chinese social media initiative has just received the UN’s highest environmental honor for turning the green good deeds of half a billion people into real trees planted in some of China’s most arid regions.

This week, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) gave the 2019 Champions of the Earth award in the “Inspiration and Action” category to the Ant Forest project.

Launched by Ant Financial Services Group, Ant Forest promotes greener lifestyles by inspiring users to reduce carbon emissions in their daily lives and better protect the environment.

Ant Forest users are encouraged to record their low-carbon footprint through daily actions like taking public transport or paying utility bills online. For each action, they receive “green energy” points, and when they accumulate a certain number of points, an actual tree is planted. Furthermore, users can view images of their trees in real-time via satellite.

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In addition to tree-planting, users can choose to protect a certain size of conservation land on the Ant Forest platform, which is also exploring innovative solutions to alleviate poverty and improve the lives of local people by leveraging the power of digital technology.

Since its launch in August 2016, Ant Forest and its NGO partners have planted around 122 million trees in some of China’s driest areas, including in arid regions in Inner Mongolia, Gansu, Qinghai and Shanxi.

The trees, which have saved more than 7 million tons of carbon emissions from entering the atmosphere, cover an area of 112,000 hectares (277,000 acres), making it China’s largest private sector tree-planting initiative.

“Ant Forest shows how technology can transform our world by harnessing the positive energy and innovation of global users,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program.

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“Although the environmental challenges we face are daunting, we have the technology and the knowledge to overcome them and fundamentally redesign how we interact with the planet. Initiatives like Ant Forest tap into the best of human ingenuity and innovation to create a better world,” she said.

The need for radical global action on climate change will be highlighted at UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ Climate Action Summit in New York. The Secretary-General has urged world leaders, businesses and civil society to come to the summit with concrete ideas of how they will cut emissions by 45% in the next decade and achieve net zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Climate Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Summit will focus on developing ambitious solutions in specific areas: a global transition to renewable energy; sustainable and resilient infrastructures and cities; resilience and adaptation to climate impacts; alignment of public and private finance with a net zero economy; and sustainable agriculture and management of forests and oceans.

Ant Forest’s recognition as a Champion of the Earth highlights the importance of ecosystem restoration in reducing the emissions fueling climate change. In March, the United Nations underlined the urgent need to protect the natural systems that sustain life by declaring the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration from 2021 to 2030.

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“We are truly honored to receive this Champions of the Earth award,” said Eric Jing, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Ant Financial. “Alipay Ant Forest reflects our belief that technology can and should be harnessed for social good. We are grateful to our many users and partners who have joined our efforts to plant 122 million trees and advance a shared vision of sustainable and inclusive development. Alipay Ant Forest’s popularity shows that the public is ready to take action to combat climate change,” he said.

Champions of the Earth is the UN’s flagship global environmental award. The UN Environment Program (UNEP) established the award in 2005 to celebrate outstanding figures whose actions have had a transformative positive impact on the environment. From world leaders to environmental defenders and technology inventors, the awards recognize trailblazers who are working to protect our planet for the next generation.

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Ant Forest is among five winners this year. The other categories are Policy Leadership, Entrepreneurial Vision and Science and Innovation. The 2019 laureates will be honored at a gala ceremony in New York on September 26th during the 74th UN General Assembly. Also honored at the event will be seven environmental trailblazers between the ages of 18 and 30, who will take home the coveted Young Champions of the Earth prize.

The Champions of the Earth awards have previously recognized Chinese innovations and change-makers, particularly in the fields of tackling pollution and desertification. In 2018, the Zhejiang Green Rural Revival Program won the award for inspiration and action for its work to regenerate polluted waterways and damaged lands; and in 2017, the Saihanba Afforestation Community was recognized in the inspiration and action category for transforming degraded land on the southern edge of Inner Mongolia into a lush paradise.

Reprinted from the UN Environmental Program

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