NEW YORK, Sept. 26 (Xinhua) -- Ant Forest, a green initiative in China, on Thursday received a 2019 "Champions of the Earth" award, the United Nations' highest environmental honor.
Ant Forest won the "Inspiration and Action" category of the award given by the UN Environment Program (UNEP) for turning the green good deeds of half a billion people into real trees planted in some of China's most arid regions.
Xu Di, general manager of the Ant Forest initiative, and Shen Junliang, a representative app user, received the award.
Launched by Ant Financial Services Group, an Alibaba affiliate, Ant Forest promotes greener lifestyles by inspiring users to reduce carbon emissions in their daily lives so as to 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. Users can view images of their trees in real-time via satellite.
"Leveraging digital technology connects us and brings us here," Xu told the award-giving ceremony. "This miracle is created by the power of digital technology."
Since its launch in August 2016, Ant Forest and its non-governmental organization 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 cover an area of 112,000 hectares, making the project China's largest private-sector tree-planting initiative.
Another miracle is Shen, whose participation in the initiative changed his life. He helped plant 14 trees in three years and at the same time lost 120 pounds (about 54.4 kg) by adopting a completely green lifestyle.
"Go green should not only be an appeal from the UN or the governments and scientists, but also should engage everyone as a bottom-up approach. Only in this way can we see an inclusive green world coming," said Xu.
Now Alipay and its partners have 1.2 billion users worldwide and more people and more partners are encouraged to join in.
UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen, who gave out the awards, was impressed by Ant Forest's achievements.
"It's very innovative. It's big. It is managed to mobilize millions of people to get an understanding of the environment and what they can do by contributing a small amount of resources," she told Xinhua. "So having people engage in a personal way is very powerful."
She said she was pleased with the progress in China and in many other countries. "I think that in China there's a strong commitment to this through ecological civilization, through a commitment to making the next century one of environmental integrity. And we obviously want everyone to step up on this field, and so that's why we have been very, very pleased to see this year Ant Forest get the 'Champions of the Earth' award."
The private sector has an important role to play. The resources needed to make the Earth sustainable, produce renewable energy and restore degraded ecosystems cannot come from the taxpayers alone, they have to come from the leaders of the private sector, said Andersen.
"Champions of the Earth" is the UN flagship global environmental awards. They were established in 2005 to celebrate outstanding figures from the public and private sectors and from civil society whose actions have had a transformative, positive impact on the environment.
The awards recognize laureates in the four categories of Entrepreneurial Vision, Inspiration and Action, Policy Leadership, and Science and Innovation.
"Champions of the Earth" awards have previously recognized Chinese trailblazers in environmental action. 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. In 2017, the Saihanba Afforestation Community was recognized in the same category for transforming degraded land on the southern edge of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region into a lush paradise.