COMBATING GLOBAL WARMING IN CHINA

COMBATING GLOBAL WARMING IN CHINA

Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “Chinese policy advisers have developed proposals to control greenhouse gases in the nearer term, government-sponsored studies show. They include a carbon tax on fossil fuels, and beginning in 2016 setting annual guiding limits for carbon dioxide emissions from energy use. China will explore expanding nascent local carbon credit markets into a nationwide plan starting in 2015, Xie Zhenhua, an official who oversees climate change policy, said in late July. In part, China is responding to international pressure, as governments negotiate a proposed new global agreement on climate change, scheduled to be settled in 2015 and go into force in 2020. In June, President Obama and President Xi Jinping agreed to discuss how to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, a potent class of manufactured greenhouse gases. [Source: Chris Buckley, New York Times, August 31, 2013 \:\]

“In 2009, the Chinese government introduced a policy to reduce the carbon dioxide emitted in the production of each unit of economic activity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020, compared with levels in 2005. That means emissions grow along with China’s economy, but at a slower rate than if there were no improvements. Even with such efforts, China’s size and feverish growth have pushed its emissions well past those of the United States. By 2011, China’s carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels accounted for 28 percent of the global total, and the United States’ for 16 percent,according to the Global Carbon Project , a consortium of researchers. The International Energy Agency estimates that China’s emissions grew by another 3.8 percent in 2012. \:\

Craig Simons, author In “The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World,” Told the New York Times: “The most helpful step Beijing could take would be to adopt a cap on its greenhouse gas emissions or to impose a significant tax on carbon. Many experts now believe that the world will be able to rein in carbon emissions only if China and the United States, which together produce almost half of global anthropogenic emissions, commit to limits. Because China is relatively poor and it is still building much of its national infrastructure, such a commitment would be challenging.

Air Pollution in China Spurring Action on Global Warming

Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “The grimy haze blanketing Beijing and other Chinese cities comes from motor vehicles, factories, power plants and furnaces that also emit carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas from human activities. The widespread ire about air pollution has forced China’s new leadership to vow firmer, faster measures for cleaner air that are likely to reduce carbon dioxide output, especially from coal, experts said. “The public concern about the air pollution has helped raise awareness about broader environmental problems,” said Jiang Kejun, a researcher at the Energy Research Institute, which advises the Chinese government. “This will be a big help in pushing China.” [Source: Chris Buckley, New York Times, August 31, 2013 \:\]

But domestic economic, energy and environmental worries are also forcing China’s leaders to consider policies that could limit greenhouse gases, analysts said. The new leadership wants to reinvigorate the economy by reducing reliance on heavy industry that produces high amounts of pollution. Mr. Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang have vowed to clean up contaminated soil, air and water, and achieving those goals could also bring carbon reductions in their wake. \:\

“Air pollution was the perfect catalyst,” said Wai-Shin Chan, director of climate change strategy in Asia for HSBC Global Research in Hong Kong. “Air pollution is clearly linked to health, and the great thing is that everybody — that’s government officials and company executives alike — breathes the same air.” \:\

“The magnitude of the issue is evident in every Chinese city. Factories and homes run on power from plants that overwhelmingly use coal; and in the winter, many heating boilers in the north also burn coal. More cars and trucks crowd the roads. The expanding cities consume cement, steel and chemicals — all industries that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide. \:\

Jiang Kejun and Fighting Global Warming in China

Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “Jiang Kejun may be one of the few Beijing residents who see a ray of hope in the smog engulfing the city. A researcher in a state energy institute, he is an outspoken advocate of swiftly cutting China’s greenhouse gas output, and he says public anger about noxious air has jolted the government, which long dismissed pollution as the necessary price of prosperity. [Source: Chris Buckley, New York Times, August 31, 2013]

“Mr. Jiang is an unusual hybrid — part policy insider, part maverick — in a growing debate among Chinese officials, policy advisers and academics about how fast and far to limit greenhouse gas pollution, which now well exceeds that of any other country. The debate, increasingly vigorous but in typical Chinese fashion playing out largely behind the scenes, pits the demands of industrialization and urban growth against the realities of global warming. \:\

Defying the habitual caution of government advisers, Mr. Jiang has developed a proposal to swiftly limit the growing volume of carbon dioxide that China produces from consuming fossil fuels, which constitute over a quarter of the world’s total such emissions. In his blueprint, China’s emissions would reach a peak by around 2025 , at least five years earlier and at a much lower level than many Chinese experts have said is possible. “I’m not saying it will be easy, but it’s feasible,” Mr. Jiang said. “Time for effective action is very limited.” \:\

His plan appears far from winning government endorsement, but is “one of those trial balloons that wouldn’t be floated unless there’s serious discussion opening up about what China should do,” said Barbara Finamore, Asia director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based advocacy group. Mr. Jiang, who has studied energy emissions for two decades, has that grand shift in mind. China must expand wind, solar and nuclear power beyond current targets, and curb heavy industry, forcing carbon dioxide emissions to peak within a dozen years, he argues. If China’s effort is accompanied by big emissions cuts by rich countries, he says, then there is a good chance of avoiding rises in the global average temperature of beyond 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial average, which most governments have agreed is a dangerous threshold. \:\

Reducing Carbon Emissions in China

China has said repeatedly that it is determined to reduce carbon emission and do what it can to tackle the global warming problem but it has been reluctant to set concrete targets or provide numbers.

In September 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao promised to curb carbon emissions but failed to set any hard targets but the statement was significant in that in the past China had always rejected demands by rich nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Hu said that China would set targets to “cut carbon emissions per unit of GDP by a doable margin by 2020.” The result of this if achieved would be a reduction of emissions not in an absolute sense but on a percentage basis in relationship to it fast-growing economy. “China’s “energy intensity” has already begun to fall. China used 3.35 percent less energy to generate a dollar of GDP in 2009 than it did in 2008.

See Energy, Coal, Alternative Energies

Government Efforts to Fight Global Warming in China

In November 2009, China announced a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent to 45 percent per unit of GDP by 2020 compared to 2005. In August 2009, Su Wei, China’s top climate change official, was quoted in the Financial Times as saying that China’s carbon emissions “would begin falling by 2050.”

The primary aim of the Communist government remains lifting their people out of poverty. Even so Beijing is increasingly realizing that it is in its own self interest to reduce carbon emissions for several reasons: 1) melting glaciers affects China’s water supply and rising sea levels affect its coastal areas; 2) it is good international PR to fight global warming; 3) energy efficiency and renewable energy not only reduce carbon emissions they also reduce China’s dependency on foreign energy sources and help clean the environment; and 4) there is money to be made in developing energy efficient and low carbon emitting technology that can purchased at home and exported abroad.

China was praised for the large green component of the $586 billion fiscal stimulus package it announced in November 2008. According to the HSBC Climate Change Center of Excellence, investment in energy efficiency measures, renewable technology and other efforts to ameliorate the impact of climate change accounted for more than 30 percent of the package. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, March 5, 2009]

Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations research unit, said he believed China was serious about addressing its emissions. There is a growing realization within Chinese society that major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would be of overall benefit to China he said.

Dr. Lin Jiabin, the deputy director of the department of social development research at the state council, told The Guardian China began making positive efforts to tackle global warming in the mid 2000s after the 16th National Congress of the Communist Party of China was held. “At that time, the pressure on China increased in the midst of rising international concern over the issue.” In 2007, the Energy Saving and Emission Reduction Leading Group and the Global Warming Countermeasures Leading Group were organized in the central government to comprehensively confront global warming, with Chinese premier Wen Jiabao as the head and representatives of each ministry and agency as members.”[Source: The Guardian, January 23, 2009]

In July 2010, the central government ordered cities to close inefficient factories by the following September. Even before that, in the previous three years, China had shut down more than a thousand older coal-fired power plants. [Source: Keith Bradsher, New York Times, July 4, 2010]

Hu Angang, economics professor at Tsinghua University and a consultant on the 2011 five-year plan, said he advised the government to set a cap on energy consumption, to influence when China's emissions might peak. With existing targets, this is not likely before 2030, by when carbon dioxide output will have more than doubled. Hu is pressing for more rapid reductions.

Methods of Reducing Carbon Emissions in China

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Vehicles, a growing source of CO2
Environmentalists give China some credit for trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. China has implemented new programs and tested new technologies to control global warming. It has made industry more energy efficient; designed new buildings and appliances that don’t waste energy; and planted forests that absorb greenhouse gases. What is more, per capita energy consumption levels are still considerably lower than levels in the developed world, particularly the United States.

The ENN Group, is a private company in Langfang, with a shiny new research center, where 250 engineers and researchers are experimenting with carbon-dioxide-absorbing algae, checking different kinds of solar panels and testing methods gasify coal underground---all in the name of reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

China is trying to use science to expand coal production while reducing carbon emissions. Ground zero for this effort is Ordos, a city in Inner Mongolia that is home to the world's biggest coal company and an industrial-scale experiment to turn coal into diesel that could create a major new source of greenhouse gases. At the same time, it hosts the planet's most efficient mine and one of China's biggest carbon capture and storage projects, which buries the gases blamed for global warming. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, November 15, 2009]

Dirty old steel factories are being upgraded or relocated. Particularly dirty ones have been ordered to shut down even though they employ thousands of people.

To reduce smog, the low chimneys of small thermal power generators are being replaced by the towering smokestacks of more efficient “supercritical” plants. Although China is building one a new coal-fired plant each week, most of them are more efficient than similar facilities in the United States and Britain. They are also better equipped to remove sulphur dioxide and other noxious gases. But almost none of them remove carbon dioxide. The result is that local air pollution is finally easing in many places but emissions of greenhouse gases into the planet's atmosphere are increasing.

The cost of eliminating a ton of carbon dioxide in China can be as little as $1 a ton compared to as high as $200 a ton in Japan. This has created an incentives for companies in Japan and Europe, which signed the Kyoto Protocol, to offset their rising emission by paying companies in China and the developing world to reduce their emissions for them. Already, China is a world leader n selling carbon emission credits to developed countries. Most of its credits come from fire-reducing HFC23, a byproduct of making refrigerants.

Still there is a lot more China could do especially when one considers that progress made in some sectors is outweighed by carbon emissions from increases in consumption of coal and other forms of energy. China can make a lot of improvements just by making its energy infrastructure more efficient.

The hope is that as China grows it will develop in such a way that it takes greenhouse gas emissions into consideration. It is much easier to combat carbon dioxide emissions this way than develop industry and try to reduce emissions later. There have been suggestions that China might be willing to commit to some kind of cap if it receives some technology transfer that will help it save energy

In June 2007 China unveiled its first climate policy plan, promising to integrate climate change policy into its economic and energy policies and vowing to try reduce it reliance on coal, expand forests, adjust agriculture and develop alternative energies such as solar and wind to do its part in the battle against global warming. It has failed to commit itself however to any concrete numbers or goals and has said it would not sacrifice economic growth. The plan was unveiled two days before Chinese Prime Minister Hu Jintao attended a Group of Eight of Meeting in which global warming was high on the agenda.

Reducing Carbon Emissions in China and Help from the Developed World

China has proposed that developed nations set aside 1 percent of their GDP to help developing countries tackle climate change and is also pressuring developed countries to spread “green technology” worldwide.

China and India have said that will both need technology and money from the developed world to tackle climate change. The basic claim is that the rich countries created the climate problem by producing greenhouse gases for the past century and that if they want the developing countries to do something about cutting emissions they have to help foot the bill.

The Obama administration is pressing China more than the Bush administration on global warming and environmental issues and may do more to provide China with carbon-reducing technology, energy efficiency, renewable technologies and advanced electrical grids. Many conservatives in Washington oppose giving China a break, arguing it could give the Chinese an economic edge. By the same token China has accused Western nations of demanding emission limits as a way of containing China’s advancement.

The Japanese and Chinese governments have reached a basic agreement in which the Japanese government and domestic firms will purchase a portion of China’s greenhouse gas emissions quota in an effort for Japan to meet its emission targets under the Kyoto Protocol. Under the agreement Japan will provide China with money and technology to reduce is greenhouse emissions and Japan will receive credit for reducing its carbon emissions.

Seven Reasons China is a World Leader in Fighting Climate Change

Ramez Naam wrote in the Slate: “China may one day be the world’s leader in combating climate change. In almost every way you cut it, China is already taking a much more aggressive approach toward climate change than the United States is. This is important for two reasons. First, China is seeing the world’s fastest growth in energy consumption and in CO2 emissions. In the United States and Europe, by contrast, energy usage is nearly flat and CO2 emissions are down. So China’s policies exert a huge lever on future CO2 emissions. Second, one of the prime arguments against U.S. action on climate change has been that it doesn’t matter what the United States does if China isn’t on board. Well, China already is on board in a number of ways that the United States isn’t. Consider the following: [Source: Ramez Naam, Slate, May 8, 2013 <<<]

1) China is launching a cap-and-trade plan. In the United States, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade plan fizzled in the Senate in 2009. In China, meanwhile, authorities have moved forward with pilot cap-and-trade systems covering seven regions, including the manufacturing hub provinces of Guangdong and Hubei, as well as the cities of Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Chongqing, and Shenzhen. The first of those cap-and-trade systems, in Shenzhen, will start operation June 17. By 2020, the Chinese government plans to link those regional systems into a national carbon market. Just last month, the governments of China and Australia announced their intent to link the two countries’ carbon markets into a regional one. <<<

2) China is also launching a carbon tax. In March, the U.S. Senate unceremoniously voted down an amendment that would have opened the way to a carbon tax. Not so, China. Officials there have announced their intent to institute a tax on CO2 emissions, likely starting in 2015 or 2016. <<<

3) China is investing more in renewable energy. Not satisfied with those future plans? Consider the here-and-now. In 2012, the United States spent $35 billion on renewable energy—actually down 37 percent from $56 billion in 2011. China, meanwhile, spent a whopping $65 billion on renewable energy in 2012, or 85 percent more than the United States did in the same year. Yes, China’s population is more than four times the United States’. But China’s economy is only half the size. As a fraction of its overall economy, China invested almost four times as much as the United States in renewable energy in 2012. <<<

4) China dominates in solar production. China has taken a huge lead in the production of solar panels in particular. In 1995, the United States produced nearly 40 percent of the solar panels produced around the world, while China made less than 1 percent. Now Chinese companies produce more than half the solar panels manufactured worldwide, while the United States produces less than 10 percent. Critics have decried this as a case of China’s government using cheap loans and investments to bootstrap an industry. And that’s exactly what it is. Whatever the short-term fluctuations in the solar market may be, whether China is guilty or not of intentionally flooding the market, in the long run the demand for solar power is going to grow by orders of magnitude. Solar power is going to be absolutely essential to meeting growing energy demands while staving off climate change. Chinese banks and Chinese leaders know this, and they plan to be the world leader in that industry. <<<

5) China is second only to Germany in solar deployment.China doesn’t just manufacture a lot of solar power equipment. In 2012, the only country in the world that installed more solar power for its own needs was Germany. The United States was No. 4, after Italy. <<<

6) China loves wind more than coal, and more than we do. For all this investment in solar power, the energy source most commonly associated with China is coal—dirty, dirty coal, the most CO2-intensive of all the fossil fuels. And yes, China does burn almost as much coal as the rest of the world combined. But in 2012, China actually deployed more new wind power than new coal power. In fact, wind power growth was more than double that of coal power growth in China—26 terawatt-hours of new wind generation in 2012 versus only 12 terawatt-hours of added coal generation in the same year. And when ranked against other countries, China comes in at—you guessed it—No. 1 in terms of the total amount of wind generating capacity installed, about 76 gigawatts compared with the United States’ 60 gigawatts. And that’s after the best-ever year the United States had in deploying new wind power, spurred on by uncertainty as to whether the wind power production tax credit would be extended. <<<

7) China’s leaders are not like America’s. There’s a preponderance of scientists and engineers among China’s rulers. New President Xi Jinping was trained as a chemical engineer. His predecessor, Hu Jintao, earned a degree in hydraulic engineering. His predecessor, Jiang Zemin, held a degree in electrical engineering. You can see this in their public statements. Last year, Xi Jinping said that “global climate change is deeply affecting human beings’ lives and development,” and called for China to develop a “national strategy for [dealing with] climate change.” Among China’s leadership, there simply is no debate about whether climate change is real. The Politburo, too, is stuffed with engineers and scientists. These are men (all men, sadly) who recognize that the world is facing a significant challenge. The conversation in China is not about whether to act against climate change. Rather, it’s about how to tackle climate change, while making room for more than 1 billion Chinese men and women to continue to enjoy the fruits of rapid economic growth. <<<

Obstacles to Fighting Global Warming in China

Chris Buckley wrote in the New York Times, “There are, though, formidable obstacles facing proponents of rapidly cutting China’s emissions. Robust economic growth remains imperative for leaders, who fear that slowing growth and rising joblessness would imperil the Communist Party’s rule. China remains dependent on coal, the source of about 70 percent of the country’s energy. And officials and companies in China are likely to resist steps they fear could jeopardize their industrial investments. “They will not be happy to see that the investment in new capacity they made a few years ago may have to be scrapped,” said Wang Tao, an expert on climate change and energy issues at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing. “It really all depends on how quickly China can transform the current economic structure.” [Source: Chris Buckley, New York Times, August 31, 2013 \:\]

Some Chinese government experts have “said their country must not risk its prosperity on such a shift. Wang Zheng, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, estimated that China’s emissions were likely to reach their peak by around 2030 at up to almost a fifth higher than Mr. Jiang wants. “If we aim for earlier, that may mean wrecking stable economic growth and triggering an economic crisis,” Mr. Wang said. Mr. Jiang said he would keep trying to persuade scientists and officials to back his proposal. Several years ago, some scoffed at his earlier, less ambitious idea for an emissions peak by 2030, which is now widely accepted. “I’ve been in constant communication with the government,” he said. “They’re listening, and at least they haven’t yet said no.” \:\

“I do not see anything coming out of China that would suggest a significant change in emissions in the short term,” said Glen Peters, a researcher at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. “There would need to be some really radical policies to come out of China for a large change in the pathway to occur.” \:\

Chinese Growth Thwarting Efforts to Combat Global Warming

Industry by industry, energy demand in China is increasing so fast that the broader efficiency targets are becoming harder to hit. According to a New York Times article: “Although China has passed the United States in the average efficiency of its coal-fired power plants, demand for electricity is so voracious that China last year built new coal-fired plants with a total capacity greater than all existing power plants in New York State.” [Source: Keith Bradsher, New York Times, July 4, 2010]

“While China has imposed lighting efficiency standards on new buildings and is drafting similar standards for household appliances, construction of apartment and office buildings proceeds at a frenzied pace. And rural sales of refrigerators, washing machines and other large household appliances more than doubled in the past year in response to government subsidies aimed at helping 700 million peasants afford modern amenities. Also as the economy becomes more reliant on domestic demand instead of exports, growth is shifting toward energy-hungry steel and cement production and away from light industries like toys and apparel.”

“Chinese cars get 40 percent better gas mileage on average than American cars because they tend to be much smaller and have weaker engines. And China is drafting regulations that would require cars within each size category to improve their mileage by 18 percent over the next five years. But China’s auto market soared 48 percent in 2009, surpassing the American market for the first time, and car sales are rising almost as rapidly again this year. One of the newest factors in China’s energy use has emerged beyond the planning purview of policy makers in Beijing, in the form of labor unrest at factories across the country.” [Ibid]

“Global climate discussions, in pinning hopes on China’s ability to vastly improve its efficient use of energy, have tended to cite International Energy Agency data showing that China uses twice as much energy per dollar of output as the United States and three times as much as the European Union. The implicit assumption is that China can greatly improve efficiency because it must still be relying mainly on wasteful, aging boilers and outmoded power plants.” [Ibid]

But David Fridley, a longtime specialist in China’s energy at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, said that the comparison to the United States and the European Union was misleading. “Manufacturing makes up three times as much of the Chinese economy as it does the American economy, and it is energy-intensive. If the United States had much more manufacturing,” Fridley said, “it would also use considerably more energy per dollar of output.” [Ibid]

China has been trying to grab the low-lying fruit---to find those opportunities where increased efficiency can save money and reduce carbon-dioxide emissions, said Ken Caldeira, a climate change specialist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif. It is starting to look like it might not be that easy to find and grab this fruit. [Ibid]

The extraordinary growth in power generation in China slowed somewhat because of the global financial crisis in 2008 and 2009. Researchers at Stanford University who closely track China’s power sector, coal use, and carbon dioxide emissions in a rough projection estimated that China emitted somewhere between 1.9 and 2.6 billion tons less carbon dioxide from 2008 to 2010 than it would have under business as usual and the economic crisis didn’t happen. [Source: Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times, January 6, 2009]

China had seen slowdowns in the growth in electricity supplies often because of shortages of coal or the ability to get the fuel where it was needed.

Carbon Emissions Grow in China Even as Energy Efficiency Increases

Even if China reaches its goals has to reduce energy consumption per unit of economic output by 20 percent in 2010 compared with 2005, and to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases per unit of economic output by 40 to 45 percent in 2020 compared with 2005, the International Energy Agency now projects that China’s emissions of energy-related greenhouse gases will grow more than the rest of the world’s combined increase by 2020. China, with one-fifth of the world’s population, is now on track to represent more than a quarter of humanity’s energy-related greenhouse-gas emissions. [Ibid]

According to current estimates, if China’s economy doubles in size its total emission would only increase by around 50 percent as opposed to double if there was no goals to reduce emissions. Charlie McElwee, a Shanghai-based environmental lawyer told AP, “There is question their carbon emissions would continue to grow under this scenario, This isn’t by any means an agreement by China ro either cap, much less reduce, the amount of its carbon emissions, It’s only slowing the down the rate oat which emissions are growing.

Under China’s “carbon intensity” index of economic growth is 10 percent and carbon emissions are 9 percent that is chalked up as a relative carbon reduction. If growth rates in the future continue as they have China’s emissions could easily increase by 40 percent with Chinese leaders claiming they have net their targets.

Impact of Chinese Consumers on Global Warming

Perhaps China’s biggest challenge in the fight to contain global warming is dealing with demands of its 1.3 billion consumers. Keith Bradsher wrote in the New York Times, “Aspiring to a more Western standard of living, in many cases with the government’s encouragement, China’s population, is clamoring for more and bigger cars, for electricity-dependent home appliances and for more creature comforts like air-conditioned shopping malls.”[Source: Keith Bradsher, New York Times, July 4, 2010]

As a result, even with all the measures China is taking to become more energy efficient and combat global warming, “China is actually becoming even less energy efficient. And because most of its energy is still produced by burning fossil fuels, China’s emission of carbon dioxide is growing worse. This past winter and spring showed the largest six-month increase in tonnage ever by a single country.” [Ibid]

“An older generation of low-wage migrant workers accepted hot dormitories and factories with barely a fan to keep them cool, one of many reasons Chinese emissions per person are still a third of American emissions per person. Besides higher pay, young Chinese are now demanding their own 100-square-foot studio apartments, with air-conditioning at home and in factories. Indeed, one of the demands by workers who went on strike in May at a Honda transmission factory in Foshan was that the air-conditioning thermostats be set lower.” [Ibid]

“Chinese regulations still mandate that the air-conditioning in most places be set no cooler than 79 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. But upscale shopping malls have long been exempt from the thermostat controls and have maintained much cooler temperatures through the summers. Now, as the consumer economy takes root, those malls are proliferating in cities across China.” [Ibid]

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated December 2013

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