Technological breakthroughs and innovations are enabling many Chinese to fight desertification in areas they have never even visited.
Internet financial services firm Ant Financial, an affiliate of Alibaba Group, made it possible with the launch of its Ant Forest mobile app in August 2016.
The app rewards users with virtual energy — which they can use to have trees planted — when they take low-carbon actions such as walking or using public transport instead of driving, or buying things online, which avoids the need for paper receipts.
The amount of energy needed to plant different trees varies. After receiving an application from an app user who has saved enough energy, Ant Forest will plant a real tree.
By the end of last year, the app had 280 million regular users.
Using their accumulated virtual energy, they have planted more than 13 million trees, covering more than 12,600 hectares of land, Ant Financial said.
Beijing engineer Duan Wanli, 29, has planted two suosuo plants, which can survive in the desert and help prevent desertification, in the Inner Mongolia autonomous region’s Alxa League.
“It is interesting and also meaningful,” she said. “You can collect a small amount of energy from your friends, but it mainly depends on your own efforts in carrying out low-carbon activities to make enough energy to make real tree planting possible.”
Duan said she is proud to have planted trees so far away and will continue making low-carbon choices to earn more virtual energy and plant more trees.
Ant Financial said it launched the app to encourage people to pay attention to green development, environmental protection, low-carbon living and reducing emissions.
Elion Resources Group, which won the Global Dryland Champion Award from the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in 2013, is also planning to use the internet to step up tree planting in Inner Mongolia’s Kubuqi Desert, something it has been involved in for 30 years.
Wang Wenbiao, the company chairman, received the Champion of the Earth award during the UN Environment Assembly late last year.
He said it plans to develop a platform that will allow people to adopt a tree and follow its growth online.
He added that Elion has signed an agreement with a central government agency encouraging forestation to build 10 bases that will be connected to the platform.