Guest blog post by Marianne Haahr Executive Director of the Green Digital Finance Alliance (a knowledge partner of the Task Force).
Alipay’s Ant Forest app leverages digital finance to empower 550 million citizens – roughly 7 % of the world’s population – by offering real-time automated carbon footprint on their everyday choices. Algorithms on the platform offer this carbon footprinting on 18 different user behaviours, such as taking the bike instead of the car.
Through an interactive interface embedded in Alipay, users gain “green points” by opting for green behaviours. Users plant and nurture a virtual tree with points, which Ant Group will then plant in real life.
The Ant Forest platform was launched in 2016 and today has 550 million users, most of whom are young people. It demonstrate the potential of digital platforms to scale green behaviours via personalised feedback and incentives. This is more effective than traditional information campaigns because it links to recognition of green lifestyle choices by a network of peers. This is a strong factor of motivation which in turn result in green behaviours becoming the new norm across large networks of citizens. That is the formula for scaling.
Green impacts of citizen-centric finance
We modelled the market size for an innovation such as Alipay’s Ant Forest across Brazil, Germany, Japan, United Kingdom, South Korea, United States and found it could lead to a reduction in up to 8.6 percent of emissions tied to public transportation. The potential for the largest savings was in India and Brazil.
Tech make green behaviours stick
Alipay’s Ant Forest platform could be the first step towards individual automated carbon accounting. This represents a significant innovation, as the impact of carbon emissions is usually measured at the point of emissions, and carbon markets are designed from the top down. Alipay’s Ant Forest flips this logic on its head and starts with the citizen.
As the Secretary-General’s Task Force report highlights there is a need to advance financing ecosystems to enable innovations that increase citizen interest and agency. We have modelled the impacts of giving such agency to citizens using Alipay’s Ant Forest as a point of departure. The modelling highlights significant potential for impact. It not only opens new ways of collaboration between policymakers and citizens to deliver on a green future, and empowers networked communities offering people a path from apathy to action as co-designers of systemic change.