Heroic NZ emission cuts versus Chinese colossus

Here’s a harsh dose of reality for the NZ Productivity Commission in attempting to convert us to a “low-emissions” economy. The map shows China’s plans to expand their links with the world in a colossal project that will triple China’s emissions. Their gas discharges already eclipse ours by 250 times so our reductions will be absurdly futile in stemming man-made global warming. The climate won’t notice, but our poor will suffer, while China’s poor rise into the middle class. What do we think we’re doing, cutting back — even banning oil exploration — when we ought to be boosting the economy at full speed?

My friend Dr Mike Kelly kindly sent me a copy of his latest analysis of New Zealand climate policy that he’s just submitted to the New Zealand Productivity Commission in response to its draft report on moving to a Low-emissions economy, which many would describe instead as disabling our productive capacity. Dr Kelly’s unflinching engineer’s eye assesses our Government’s putative policy responses to the climate perils forecast by skittish warmsters and it makes for thoughtful reading.

The New Silk Road

His central message is a revelation: whatever emissions we record over the next 20 years, China’s will be a thousand times larger. In fact, the emissions expected just from their One Belt, One Road, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) are destined to overwhelm all other human emissions for twenty and more years.

Thankfully, Dr Kelly is unmoved by the familiar nightmare forecasts from the warmsters wherein catastrophe awaits us. He finds, as so many of us find, no reason to forecast disaster, and reports disabling flaws in the Productivity Commission’s proposals to create a “low-emissions” economy.

Dr Kelly recently retired after many years teaching at Cambridge University. He is the Emeritus Prince Philip Professor of Technology, University of Cambridge, and was Chief Scientific Advisor for three years to the Department for Communities and Local Government in the UK. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society of New Zealand.

In this submission he starts by returning to the Royal Society of New Zealand’s April 2016 report on Transition to a low-carbon economy for New Zealand. He describes astounding deficiencies in it. The Royal Society left out facts and figures, making evaluation of their recommendations impossible.

So Dr Kelly spent months at the MacDiarmid Institute at Victoria University digging out the hard data for a detailed critique of the 200-odd pages in the RSNZ report. He found that of the Royal Society’s 40-plus recommendations, only three would work, eight would have no impact and the rest are economically damaging or pointless.

Not a good look, is it, Professor Richard Bedford? Readers should feel free to email Prof Bedford, President of the RSNZ, and advise him what they think of this performance.

Moving on to the present report, a significant element in the Productivity Commission’s discussion of “decarbonising” the New Zealand economy is that emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere is a global problem, so we must be careful to ensure that our changes will not increase global emissions. The UK made substantial errors in this regard, for example in closing down their aluminium production, which went to China, increasing emissions.

Our global ranking in CO2 emissions is about 0.1%; in all gases it’s only about 0.2%. If the global goal was to eliminate emissions to “solve” the man-made global warming “problem”, production and transport would come to a halt. But that’s unnecessary, since the world is demonstrating it can cope with quite substantial emissions—increased CO2 is greening the earth.

The elephant in the room

But our government, pressured by unelected activist scientists in the Royal Society, is committing us, without consultation and with no mandate, to act as a “world leader” to somehow inspire other countries to take “the correct path”. Hence the Zero Carbon Bill. So Zero Carbon battles Low Emissions. God knows how those two mutually exclusive initiatives can be reconciled.

But Dr Kelly says the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) of the Chinese Government1 is “the elephant in the room” and describes it as “simply the largest civil engineering project ever undertaken, linking China to Europe by super-fast rail and a multi-lane motorway infrastructure with new cities along the route.” This staggering development alone makes it unlikely that New Zealand’s Low Emissions and Zero Carbon both will be sufficient to save the planet.

Yet the draft report makes no mention of the BRI.

The Royal Society is certainly disconnected from the real world, for they didn’t mention the existence of this super-project either. However, a bit of arithmetic shows that the unwelcome and expensive emission reductions asked of us will be invisible against the growing ocean of emissions from China. In short, our reductions will be futile and cast cash to the four winds.

Dr Kelly says that in the last 20 years 600 million Chinese people have risen from rural poverty to the middle class and now dwell in cities. He follows up with eye-watering numbers:

The BRI will do the same for over 2 billion people along the new routes over the next 20-30 years2. Some 700 coal-fired power stations will be built with Chinese funds3 to provide energy for these cities. The estimate is that the extra annual carbon emissions from this project will eventually add up to twice the level of Chinese emissions today4 which are 26% of all world emissions today (and over 250 times New Zealand emissions).

Using data from the World Bank and BP, it is estimated that a further 2.5 billion people joining the middle class between 2015 and 2035 will add a further 40% to the energy demand during that period, over 85% of that coming from fossil fuels. We are on course so far5. The new emissions from BRI alone will be over 500 times the emissions of New Zealand today, and 1000 times the emissions in 2050 if New Zealand should succeed in halving its emissions by then. Most of BRI will be energised by fossil fuels or nuclear technology as the current generation of renewables is too small by a factor of order one hundred to cope.

Tragedy of the commons

After 20 years of having renewables foisted on us by heavy-handed governments, after recent propaganda claiming use of renewables is expanding and they’ve become as economical as coal, it will come as a surprise to many to learn that in 20 years the fraction of global energy provided by fossil fuels has changed by less than 1% and by only 2% over the last 40 years6.

Arguments based on the ‘tragedy of the commons’ that would demand New Zealand reductions to avoid harm to others lose their sway given the Chinese expansion plans, for New Zealand’s minuscule emissions will have no detectable effect on anyone’s future climate. Dr Kelly advises us to husband our resources and adapt to the changing climate only if necessary. He asserts “the Final Report should begin by confirming this wisdom … in the light of the BRI reality.”

Dr Kelly says the Commission should have considered influencing people’s attitudes and behaviour towards reducing omissions, and raises the possibility of personal sacrifice:

Colleagues in Cambridge have estimated that we could live simpler lives on half of today’s daily consumption of energy per person without major compromises to our standard of living: fewer flights, smaller and lighter cars, simpler meals, fewer things, …7

As benign as that may appear, any New Zealand government would be well to think carefully before they tell free people without very good reason how many things they can have. Kiwis would find it difficult to accept that paying an honest price from wages honestly earned for anything useful or desirable might harm anyone else. If I can afford it, why shouldn’t I have several pairs of shoes, or several coats or suits or frying pans or three overseas holidays a year?

It’s a different story when things are made from resources that begin to dwindle. The natural result in a free market is usually a price increase, which reduces demand while inspiring the development of alternatives. It might be necessary to put a tax on some abundant resource for the good of the environment or people’s health, but only after a rigorous examination of the reasons for it and its costs and benefits.

Energy from Biblical times

Dr Kelly’s reasoning can be a welcome splash of cold water on the mainstream media’s persistent enthusiasm for so-called “renewable” energy:

Relying on technology innovation is not a get-out-of-gaol-free card in this case. It is easy to be seduced by advances in technology over the last 100 years, but of all the energy sources we use today, only two forms (nuclear fission and solar photovoltaics) were not around in Biblical times. Even if the scientific breakthroughs occurred tomorrow (say in nuclear fusion) it would take 40 years for the engineering and technology developments to enable major infrastructure investments to be made on the scale that would impact the world economy at the 10% level. … The energy density of fossil fuels is nearly [as] high as we can get with normal materials, and eclipsed only by the energy density of the nucleus5: the energy density of state-of-the-art batteries is 50,000 lower than petroleum.

He echoes other reports in warning that the poor, “and especially the rural or small town poor,” will be the most severely disadvantaged “if subsidies [on renewable energy] are misdirected.”

He cautions in the strongest terms against emulating Britain’s approach to “carbon reduction”. UK emissions of CO2 have dropped 42% in 26 years, but they’ve achieved that by decimating their industrial output. Manufacturing halved in 18 years from 1988 while the balance of payments deficit for manufactured goods grew 15-fold. The UK now imports from China what the UK once produced for itself and as a consequence, UK CO2 emissions are down but world emissions are up. Dr Kelly remarks sardonically:

This seems not to be the source of any embarrassment in the public debate.

Uncertain future

Reorganising a nation’s production to reduce emissions of CO2 can expose the folly of acting locally with no global vision. The UK made numerous decisions along these lines, but a reduction in domestic emissions of 27% eventually becomes 11% when trade is included.

  • For forestry to soak up CO2, trees must be used in durable ways. But can the soil sustain repeated 30-year cycles of harvesting trees?
  • Retrofitting houses to improve energy efficiency is prohibitively expensive — perhaps half the value of the dwelling. Absent a substantial price hike in the real cost of energy to make a serious retrofit of existing buildings viable, one will have to wait centuries until they are rebuilt to higher standards.
  • We shouldn’t get too excited over electric vehicles. A full fleet would require the New Zealand grid capacity to increase by over 50%, and the Manapouri power plant, if aluminium production ceased, will only provide — amazingly — about a quarter of what is needed: where will the rest come from? This needs planning to avert grossly embarrassing blackouts.
  • Both concentrated solar power plants (Abengoa in Spain and Ivanpah in California) are in bankruptcy protection. Solar panels have recently been discovered to leach toxic materials, especially when damaged by storms, and safe disposal is extremely difficult.

Dr Kelly concludes that the draft report is correct in emphasising the future uncertainty of the world and adds an historical note:

William Stanley Jevons urged the UK to abandon the industrial revolution in 1866, as when the country ran out of coal in about 2100, the collapse of society would be so terrible that it was better not to go down that route and instead revert to the lifestyle of the 18th century. Was he right? We still don’t know, but are fairly certain he was not.

Read Dr Kelly’s full submission, let me know what you think. Need I say this is important?


Why the One Belt One Road?

The Changbai Shan, a Chinese amphibious warfare ship that’s taken advantage of commercial ports for resupply, Jan. 26, 2015. (Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s an insight into Chinese motivations from Foreign Policy:

Chinese leaders tout their trillion-dollar Belt and Road project, especially in the Indian Ocean, as a win-win commercial proposition meant to bring modern infrastructure and prosperity to an under-developed part of the world. In reality, Beijing’s acquisition of more than a dozen ports across the Indian Ocean is a state-directed effort to bolster Chinese political influence and extend its military reach from Indonesia to East Africa, according to a detailed new study released in April.

The report, conducted by C4ADS, an American data-driven research nonprofit, examined 15 Chinese port deals across the Indian Ocean region. It concluded that, contrary to Beijing’s public rhetoric, the economics of the deals are questionable, political control is nearly absolute, and one of the main drivers is to give the Chinese navy the possibility of far-reaching logistical support under the cover of seemingly innocuous commercial operations.

The accumulation of similar projects from Cambodia to Pakistan reinforces concerns that Beijing is using business bridgeheads for political and military purposes. “It’s more a layering of one deal after another — one by itself is not nefarious, but taken all together…” says Ben Spevack, another co-author.

Most important, what a few years ago appeared a distant fear now seems to be coming to pass.

The Chinese government is using state-owned companies and politically linked private firms to create a network of facilities designed to provide logistical support to Chinese warships patrolling the Indian Ocean, the report says, citing a Chinese analyst who lays out a “first civilian, later military” approach to port development across the region.


If military ambition is truly at the root of Beijing’s thinking, it means reducing our industrial strength might actually be dangerous. We should be increasing our capacity for self-defence, not reducing it.

1. http://english.gov.cn/beltAndRoad/
2. Raising 2B people out of poverty is a part of the UN sustainable development goals.
3. www.straitstimes.com/asia/east-asia/chinese-firms-to-build-700-coal-plants
4. www.climatechangenews.com/2017/12/11/belt-road-countries-emit-triple-chinas-carbon-warns-official/
5. M J Kelly, ‘Lessons from technology development for energy and sustainability’, Materials Research Society Energy and Sustainability 3, 2-13, doi:10.1557/mre.2016.3, (2016)
6. https://qz.com/1144207/the-worlds-astonishing-dependence-on-fossil-fuels-hasnt-changed-in-40-years/
7. B. Bajzelj, J.M. Allwood, and J.M. Cullen, ‘Designing climate change mitigation plans that add up’, Environ. Sci. Technol. 47, 8062 – 8069 (2013)

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Peter Fraser

Thank God for sanity and a powerful mind that can document and refute the stupidity shown by our leaders

Brett Keane

Yep. I had to train as a soldier against the people who are now pushing this scam. Of course I recognise their current disguises, and their media trolls. They are the mothers, fathers, and the kings of lies, and brainwashing is one of their favourite techniques. This we see in all media every day. Like greenpeace and Russel Norman, ex head of Aust. Communism. And now, no more oil prospecting in 20yrs or less. Cripes!
So far we have always stopped them, but that is no excuse for relaxing. Another climax is near, where we can win or lose again.
Glad to see these efforts at getting science to where it can count. Got some stuff in the pipeline myself. Cannot however see much room for influencing the Green Party leader’s Commission. Seems all decided already…..

In my submission to the Productivity Commission I make similar points to Dr Kelly (who was kind enough to present to a short list of govt officials here in Wellington earlier this year). In my submission I call for an enquiry to the IPCC processes and how it would seem that the shenanigans surrounding the ‘consensus statement’ from the Second Assessment Report (the ‘discernible human influence’) had a direct influence on NZ’s decision to ratify Kyoto (I obtained MFAT briefing papers under OIA). I also detail further shenanigans: Hockey stick, ClimateGate, hiatus. I call for a more measured response, recognising the evolving science and fragility of the Paris Agreement, that keeps us in step with trade partners and does not cause undue hardship. Summary and link to full submission available here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/spindletop-submission-productivity-commissions-draft-report-rush-llm/


Does anyone know how to make a submission on the Zero Carbon Bill?

Apparently we have quite a short window in which to do this.


Thanks Richard. I would encourage readers here to make submissions. The implications of this proposed bill are fairly horrendous from an economic perspective


Submissions on the “Zero Carbon” bill won’t make a blime bit of difference. The format of the whole online submission process is just , in fact, loaded to totally endorse this impossible wacko endeavour. You cannot in any way, with this submission, make an objection to the Bill being passed. Consider the Bill already passed…it’s part of this govt’s looney lefty “climate change” delusion.


I’ll try to look at the submission process over the weekend. I agree that the wording is very lop-sided but it seems a bit too early to throw in the towel given the huge ramifications for the economy

Stephanie Hawking

Michael Kelly is a climate denier. Like Richard Treadgold, he refuses to learn climate science. To repeat myself, one can find the excellent lecture series by Oxford professor Myles Allen here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2018/04/the-alsup-aftermath/ Michael Kelly claims “the worst” is not going to happen. He doesn’t know what he is talking about. Nothing more than shameless ignorance and wishful thinking. Business-as-usual burning will render much of the planet where we live now uninhabitable. Before the end of the century there will be hundreds of millions and more displaced persons. Most will be the poor that deniers love talking about, “saving”. The one thing they don’t need is the wealthy burning fossil fuels… Per capita New Zealand’s emissions are high and rising. The Climate Change Committee will address this. Unlike the politically-inspired nuclear “threat”, global warming is real and requires action. Excuses and “explanations” won’t wash. China is very susceptible to sea level rise. It is going to be watching the world. Australia won’t be burning coal “forever” – as Malcolm Turnbull seems to think. New Zealand will be under instruction too. The advent of synthetic meat might involuntarily solve the methane problem. China and India… Read more »

Stephanie Hawking

https://thespinoff.co.nz/politics/18-06-2018/bridges-to-somewhere-why-nationals-climate-u-turn-is-such-a-big-deal/ Bridges to somewhere: why National’s climate U-turn is such a big deal James Renwick | Guest writer Climate change is not a partisan issue, and the need to take big steps to reduce emissions is urgent. So the opposition support for a Climate Change Commission is very welcome, writes climate scientist James Renwick. In climate policy-land, things are all go here in New Zealand. The coalition government has got its Zero Carbon Bill out for public consultation, no new offshore oil exploration permits will be issued, and the Climate Change Commission is being set up. And now the leader of the opposition National Party, Simon Bridges, has come out in support of the Climate Change Commission and is looking for cross-party agreement on climate policy. Wow. What a difference a year (and an election) makes. Not too long ago, the National government was unsupportive of the idea of a commission, was disinclined to shift climate change policy much, and then prime minister Bill English seemed pretty lukewarm about the whole climate change thing in general. Wherever Simon Bridges’ new passion for climate change action has come from, it is very welcome. Climate… Read more »

Michael Kelly, University of Cambridge

Stephanie, Tackle the arguments, not the person, otherwise you demean your own arguments. I am not a climate denier, but I am a climate science critic, and I, for one, have learned the lesson of William Stanley Jevons. On what basis are you so sure that the worst will actually happen, other than you calling what actually happens as being the worst after the event? On what basis will much of the current world become uninhabitable? Which parts, and can you put a percentage number on much, and a year by when? Compare that then with the prognostications of Jevons. Have you come across any of the poor of the world clamouring not to have more energy soon because of climate change, and ahead of the renewable energy timescale? I ask you again: what difference will the NZ CO2 emissions saving actually make if China puts 500 times more into the atmosphere. While China is doing well with renewables, it is still doing much better with fossil fuels and nuclear energy. See the hard data at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renewable_energy_in_China which shows that 20% of the Chinese electricity is renewable, and of that 80% is hydroelectricity.… Read more »


If you are going to compare Chinese with NZ emissions, then you need to do it on a per capita basis. China is mothballing its more inefficient coal fired power stations. Every country bar the US has Paris Agreement targets to meet. Your analysis fails to mention of cost of meeting our target, which will presumably require purchasing overseas credits.
The BRI will likely lead to transport efficiencies. Shipping is far and away the most efficient way of moving product. There will likely be more processing close to source in a carbon constrained future.
NZ electricity generation companies are currently sitting on several geothermal projects and are just waiting on appropriate price signals.


As far as I know US emissions have decreased due to uptake of natural gas displacing coal

Meanwhile our “progressive” NZ coalition has banned natural gas exploration yet continues with coal mining

Presumably they will shut that down too at some point, along with cow and sheep farming, tourism and other industries that create Carbon Pollution

At least we can aspire to two car families for all. The kids live in one car and Mum and dad live in the other

Michael Kelly

Simon, The per capita argument is a red herring, especially when factors of 500 are involved. Go back to the digging a hole argument and see where it gets you. If the Chinese maintain their emissions, let alone treble them through the BRI, there are still of lot people filling in your hole. The extreme version is the Bahrainis who have four times the carbon footprint as a typical European [https://www.worlddata.info/asia/bahrain/energy-consumption.php], but there are only one third the number of Bahrainis that there are New Zealanders. Both sets of emissions pale into insignificance beside the Chinese, or European, emissions. It is correct that the Chinese are mothballing inefficient coal fired power plants, but mainly because they are polluting cities with soot products, not to reduce CO2 emissions, and most of these historical plants are small compared with the new ones being built today, so raw numbers of plants don’t give the full picture. I agree with your increased efficiency arguments. Shipping is lower carbon transport, but trains are quicker, and there are few examples in modern living where we are prepared to wait – think of the freight that undergoes multiple intercontinental flights… Read more »


Farmers have agreed to be “carbon zero” by 2050

Sean Rush

The ‘per capita’ argument bugs me a bit – New Zealand is a large country, by European standards, but sparsely populated so we travel a lot by motor vehicle and it’s a long way to get here and away. But if we were to measure by square metre then a whole new analysis evolves. NZ emits 0.17% of global emissions but (by back of the envelop calcs), we (including our massive continental shelf) sequester 0.5% of global emissions so we are a net sink. The per capita analysis suits the Europeans just nicely, I expect. On the consultation document for the Net Zero Bill, if it were a prospectus developed to support a fundraising, it would be illegal. It is full of hyperbole, mis-leading facts and missing facts. “Unprecedented’ warming? …well not if you compare with say, 1914 – 1944, or 1860 to 1880 or the MWP and other earlier periods in the Holocene maximum. Sea Level rise? well, no. If you look at Wellington’s tidal gauge you will find sea level rise hasn’t materially altered, ever. Increased extreme weather events? – hmm, A review of Wikipedia of South Pacific cyclones, at five… Read more »

Sean Rush

oh, and the farmers have only agreed to net carbon zero if they get their way with methane accounting which would allow them to maintain current herds so long as they don’t increase the stock of atmospheric methane – no problem with that but the headline claim is another example of the dishonesty that surrounds this process. Be interesting to see if they apply the same to fugitive emissions from gas plants, they won’t but they should given that every gas field in NZ is in decline and will not have any effect at all by 2050.

Sean Rush

Thanks Richard – on MfE’s claims of an increase in extreme weather events, if you look at page 162 of the last IPCC assessment (AR5) you will note: “confidence is low for a global scale observed trend in drought” and “confidence is low for long-term (centennial) changes in tropical cyclone activity” and “confidence in large-scale trends in storminess or storminess proxies over the last century is low.” What am I missing here? are they saying that climate has not really changed at all in the last 100 years? Why are we considering this Bill?


Whilst everyone is banging on about Donald “Literally Hitler” Trump, potential SCOTUS nominee Mike Lee is looking interesting for the climate change agenda:

Climate change
In 2011, Mike Lee voted to limit the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.[7] In 2013, he voted to make it harder for Congress to put a price on carbon through a point of order opposing a carbon tax or a fee on carbon emissions. The measure did not pass.[8] At a May 2016 event, he stated that it “has long been obvious that the Democratic Party’s assertion that the science of climate change is “settled” is little more than a cheap public-relations ploy masquerading as a monopoly on scientific knowledge”.[9]

SCOTUS members can last decades, long after “Literally Hitler” has retired to play golf in Scotland

Plus the Republicans would have a hold on the SCOTUS, potentially for decades

Stephanie Hawking

@Michael Kelly. Yes you are a climate denier. Why do you deny it? http://www.newstalkzb.co.nz/on-air/leighton-smith-show/professor-michael-kelly-climate-change-and-planning-for-the-future/ You have connections to the Global Warming Policy Foundation with its well known deniers Lawson and Ridley. You attacked the Royal Society of London for doing what its charter includes, service to the community. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2995239/Why-Royal-Society-wrong-climate-change-devastating-critique-world-s-leading-scientific-organisation-one-Fellows.html Asking you for advice on tackling man-made climate change would be like being operated on by a surgeon whose main income is derived from funeral parlours. You are completely outside your field of expertise in assessing the risks of continuing business-as-usual-burning. Mere hand-waving. Unlike a true sceptic you have learned next-to-nothing about climate science. Richard Muller did the work; set up Berkeley Earth. He found the climate scientists were correct. Indeed your whole modus operandi seems to be to flood the discussion with masses of irrelevant detail that keeps people distracted, like that fool Monckton. Why on Earth you think any intelligent person should agree a group of 4.5 million people in NZ should be treated differently from any other arbitrarily selected group of 4.5 million people in a high GHG-emitting country is beyond me. Nobody thinks solving this problem is going to easy.… Read more »


I thought the Leighton Smith interview posted above was very good. The observations about Brexit being a reaction to the chattering classes was very astute.

Michael Kelly

You would not appear to have read the first sentence of my earlier comment.
“Tackle the arguments, not the person, otherwise you demean your own arguments.”
I need say no more.

Stephanie Hawking

@Michael Kelly The forum for scientific debate is scientific publishing: peer-reviewed scientific journals. Please list your publications in climate science. Where you show there has been no warming for 20 years; that the consensus is wrong.. In the meantime you can ponder this article. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jul/05/shell-would-support-uk-bringing-forward-petrol-ban-from-2040 CEO says earlier date would ease investment decisions and shift consumer attitudes. Shell, one of the world’s biggest oil and gas companies, has backed calls for the UK to bring forward its 2040 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales. Ben van Beurden, chief executive of the Anglo-Dutch group, said he welcomed the idea of bringing forward the ban, as it would provide clarity and make it easier for companies like Shell to make investment decisions and also shift consumer attitudes. Asked if he would like to see the ban take effect earlier, as MPs, mayors and thinktanks have called for, he said: “If you would bring it forward, obviously that would be welcome. I think the UK will have to go at a much higher speed than the speed the rest of the world can go.” While Africa and Asia would out of necessity have to… Read more »


What is with all these TL;DR; comments from Stephanie?

We all know how to cut and paste


Steph, as a Brit having a bit of nice weather for a change all I can say is bring on global warming.

Thats all we are having Steph, a two week stretch of nice weather.

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