Daily Briefing | Barack Obama set to impose tougher climate rules on power sector

  • 03 Aug 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Barack Obama

Barack Obama | Shutterstock

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New study shrinks the gap between observed and modelled global temperatures 
Global temperatures have been rising more slowly than expected by models, but new research shrinks the discrepancy by more than a third. The difference comes down to the way temperatures at sea are measured in the real world, using water samples, versus models, which looked at air above the sea surface. Other contributions to the discrepancy include natural variability, solar and volcanic impacts.    Carbon Brief

Climate and energy news

Barack Obama set to impose tougher climate rules on power sector 
President Obama's clean power plan to limit emissions from electricity generation is set to be finalised today, says the FT's front page, in what it calls "the US's most far-reaching action on climate change". A second article for the paper says the plan will push states towards carbon pricing. The BBC says it will "boost renewables". The BBC's Tom Bateman says Obama will be "hoping Monday's announcement secures his legacy on climate". The Guardian focuses on White House insistence that the plan will be legal, despite claims to the contrary from Republican presidential hopefuls.  RTCC covers a press call with NGOs that say a "tsunami of litigation" against the plan will fail, as it has solid legal footing. Associated Press says the finalised plan will hit US power plants with tougher than expected emissions targets, while Carbon Pulse says it will raise a power sector reduction goal to 32% by 2030 against 2005 levels, rather than the draft 30%. This will still only reduce US emissions by 6% between 2013 and 2030, says VoxThe New York Times says the move "could force robust climate discussion" from presidential candidates. It quotes several Republicans -- all opposed to the clean power plan -- who were speaking at an event hosted by the climate-sceptic billionaire Koch brothers. The HillFox NewsThe New York TimesReuters and Bloomberg are among the many other outlets covering today's expected announcement. The Hill also covers news of a group of 365 businesses that are lending their support to Obama's plan. Reuters says the nuclear industry fears the plan may force early retirement at a number of plants. In preparation for the rule's publication, the White House tweeted a video pushing back against climate sceptics and explaining why now is the time to act on climate change.     Financial Times 

UN states agree post-2015 sustainable development agenda 
An agenda for sustainable development over the next 15 years has been agreed by the UN's 193 member states. The 17 sustainable development goals include taking urgent action to combat climate change. They are designed to replace the UN's eight millennium development goals, and must be formally adopted at a summit in September.     Reuters 

Good practice could get emissions close to 2C levels - study 
Greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced in line with international goals with political will, European researchers have found. The researchers - from the New Climate Institute, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis - conclude that applying globally the climate policies that are already working in some countries could substantially reduce emissions. The report says China is already among the leaders in policies in a number of areas.     RTCC 

Climate models are even more accurate than you thought 
We should give more credit to global climate models, says the Guardian's Dana Nuccitelli, pointing to new research that shows "the models were even more accurate than previously thought". The modelled temperature rise for 1975-2014 is 0.196C per decade, compared to the observed trend of 0.170C, Nuccitelli says. Carbon Brief also looked at the research.      The Guardian

Climate and energy comment

The reports are false - coal burns on 
Media coverage giving the impression that the coal industry is on its last legs "owe more to wishful thinking than to any analysis of what is actually happening", writes Nick Butler. Instead, the coal industry is growing, he says, with demand up last year despite the slowdown in China. The new coal era will last until there is a low cost alternative for consumers who live at the margin, he concludes.     Nick Butler, Financial Times 

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New study shrinks the gap between observed and modelled global temperatures

  • 31 Jul 2015, 16:15
  • Roz Pidcock
The heart of the NASA Center for Climate Simulation (NCCS) is the “Discover” supercomputer.

Supercomputer | NASA Goddard

It's well known in climate science that global surface temperatures over the past decade have been lower than climate models expected them to be.

Some parts of the media have jumped on this to suggest climate models  overestimate the amount of warming we can expect in future.

Now, a   new paper says the discrepancy between modelled and observed temperatures isn't as large as previously thought.

Taking into account the different ways they estimate global temperature shrinks the difference between them by more than a third, according to the study in Geophysical Research Letters.

Model mismatch

While heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have continued to rise, recent measurements of surface temperatures suggest the world is warming a little more slowly than models projected.

The black line in the top graph below shows how the observed temperature from  HadCRUT4 is currently tracking the lower end of the range expected by climate models used in the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (red line and purple shading).

We'll come back to the bottom graph in a minute.

Forcings -graph

Top: Comparison of 84 model simulations of the IPCC's highest emissions scenario (RCP8.5) against HadCRUT4 observations (black), using air temperatures (red line and shading) or "blended" temperatures (blue line and shading). Coloured lines are the multi-model averages, shading is the 5-95% uncertainty range of the model simulations. Bottom: Results adjusted to include updated aerosol forcings from Schmidt et al. [2014]. Anomalies are relative to 1961-1990. Source: Ed Hawkins,  Climate Lab Book

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Daily Briefing | Green groups express 'major concern' over Tory policies in letter to Cameron

  • 31 Jul 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
David Cameron

David Cameron | Shutterstock

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Five charts show the historic shifts in UK energy last year 
New data from the Department for Energy Climate Change shows UK energy use fell to its lowest level for at least half a century, while coal use fell to levels not seen since the 19th century and renewable power increased by a fifth. We bring you five charts that show what happened to the UK's energy mix in 2014.    Carbon Brief

Drought stunts tree growth for four years, study says 
Trees could take up to four years to return to normal growth rates in the aftermath of a severe drought, a new study finds. With the frequency and severity of droughts likely to increase with climate change, we might not be able to rely on forests to absorb as much of our carbon emissions, the researchers say.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Green groups express 'major concern' over Tory policies in letter to Cameron 
The heads of the 10 environment and conservation groups have written to David Cameron to register their "major concern" at the cancellation or weakening of 10 green polices since he was re-elected. The groups, which include the National Trust, Greenpeace and the RSPB, said they were shocked and worried at the changes, and rated the Conservative government's track record on nature and climate change as "woeful". The Automobile Association (AA) also joined in on the letter, says  BBC News. The AA is concerned that the removal of the zero-band for car tax on hybrid vehicles is "counter-productive" when trying to encourage motorists and manufacturers to move to lower-emission cars.  The Times says the National Trust has been accused of inconsistency for criticising the government for ending wind-farm subsidies while repeatedly opposed wind farms, even when they were some distance from its land.      The Guardian 

Fracking could be delayed for up to two years across UK after Lancashire council rejects test drilling 
Government plans to roll out fracking across Britain face delays of up to two years following the recent decision to reject exploration for shale gas in Lancashire. Shale gas company Cuadrilla has now appealed but that process, regardless of the outcome, is likely to take 16 months. Senior Government sources said they feared other companies were now unlikely to submit further fracking applications until they saw the outcome in Lancashire.  The Guardian also has the story, and the front page of the i newspaper declares "Fracking on the rocks".      The Independent 

UK solar growth stalls following government subsidy cuts 
The amount of solar power being installed in the UK has "largely flatlined" since the closure by the government of a subsidy scheme in April, even before a new round of subsidy cuts has taken effect, says The Guardian. Official figures show that large-scale solar farm developers rushed to connect to the grid in March before the government excluded large farms from its subsidy scheme. But installations largely trickled to a halt after April. The new data also show that electricity from all renewable sources accounted for almost 20% of total UK power generation in 2014, reports  BusinessGreen - up from just under 15% last year. Carbon Brief also delved into the data.      The Guardian 

Drought May Stunt Forests' Ability to Capture Carbon 
A new study shows that forests devastated by drought may lose their ability to store carbon over a much longer period than previously thought, reducing their role as a buffer between humans' carbon emissions and a changing climate.  The Washington Post and  Scientific American also covered the new research, as did  Carbon Brief.      Climate Central 

Obama will use veto to defend climate change plan if necessary 
Barack Obama will use all of his powers - including his veto - to defend his plan to fight climate change, the White House said, on the eve of new rules cutting carbon pollution from power plants. Obama is expected to unveil the new rules as early as Monday. Denis McDonough, the White House chief of staff, said: "When it comes to the Clean Power Plan, let me say this: We will not back down".  Reuters takes a look at what concessions may be in the new plan, including a push back in the rule's start date by two years to 2022.  RTCC also has the story.      The Guardian 

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Drought stunts tree growth for four years, study says

  • 30 Jul 2015, 19:00
  • Robert McSweeney
Stressed trees in US

Stressed trees in US | L Anderegg


Trees could take up to four years to return to normal growth rates in the aftermath of a severe drought, a new study finds. 

With the frequency and severity of droughts likely to increase with climate change, we might not be able to rely on forests to absorb as much of our carbon emissions, the researchers say.

Drought stress

Forests hold almost half of the carbon found on the Earth's surface, storing it in their woody trunks and branches.  Studies show that forests are sensitive to droughts, causing tress stress and limiting how much they can grow and store carbon.

During the European heatwave in 2003, for example, tree and plant growth  fell by 30%. That meant the land surface in Europe actually produced more carbon dioxide than it absorbed that year.

The new study, published in  Science, suggests that it takes longer for trees to recover after a severe drought than previously thought.

Tree rings

Using data from the International Tree Ring Data Bank, researchers analysed tree growth at over 1,300 sites across the northern hemisphere countries. The sites are predominantly in North America and Europe, and oak and pine trees make up the majority of the species the researchers considered.

Tree rings provide a handy estimate of how quickly a tree has grown. As a tree grows, it puts on extra layers of wood around its trunk, creating a new ring each year. The quicker a tree grows, the bigger the gap between tree rings from one year to the next. 

800px -tree _rings

Tree rings. Creative Commons 2.5: Arnoldius

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Five charts show the historic shifts in UK energy last year

  • 30 Jul 2015, 17:25
  • Simon Evans
Eggborough Power Station

Eggborough power station | Shutterstock

Last year was a historic one for UK energy, with significant consequences for UK emissions

New data from the Department for Energy Climate Change (DECC) shows energy use fell to its lowest level for at least half a century, while coal use fell to levels not seen since the 19th century and renewable power increased by a fifth.

Along with a record warm year, the combined impact of these changes was a 10% reduction in UK  carbon emissions -- the largest ever fall to accompany economic growth.

Carbon Brief has five charts that show what happened to the UK's energy mix in 2014.

Energy low

For decades if not centuries, a growing economy has usually been accompanied by rising energy use. Recessions have been the only sure-fire way to dampen rising demand. Since 2005, however, the UK has been busy  breaking that link.

In 2014 the downward trend accelerated, with a 6.6% reduction in energy use, even as the economy grew by a relatively rapid 2.8%. That left energy use last year down 18% since a 2005 peak and at the lowest level for at least half a century.

Within that overall picture, there were large reductions in gas, oil and coal use (light grey, brown and dark grey areas, below). As first estimated by Carbon Brief in January, UK coal use in 2014 fell to levels last seen during the  industrial revolution of the late 1800s.

Uk -primary -energy -useUK primary energy use by source. Source:  DUKES table 1.1.1. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Fossil fuel low

Total and fossil energy use were both down last year, making it hard to gauge the bigger picture. If we slice things up more simply, you can see that fossil fuels claimed a record low share of the UK energy mix in 2014, at 85% (grey area, below).

Fossil -fuel -share -uk -energy -mixThe UK's energy mix since 1990. Source:  DUKES table 1.1.1. Chart by Carbon Brief.

Renewables grabbed a growing share of UK energy use, reaching 7% of the total in 2014. As a result, the UK beat its  interim target on the path to a 15% by 2020 goal under the EU Renewable Energy Directive, including heat, power and transport.

Longer-running data from  BP shows that fossil fuels supplied 98% of the UK's energy needs in 1965 and it's a safe bet that last year's low of 85% is a record for the modern era. Even so, the UK is a very long way from the decarbonised economy it is aiming for. The  Climate Change Act commits the UK to an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050, against a 1990 baseline.

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Daily Briefing | EPA poised to push carbon rule compliance to 2022

  • 30 Jul 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Emission from coal power plant

Coal power plant | Shutterstock

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Updated: The climate change papers most featured in the media 
We've updated our Altmetrics analysis of which research articles have made the biggest splash in the news and on social media, as part of our Climate Papers series. The update comes thanks to expanded search functionality at Altmetric, in response to eagle-eyed Carbon Brief readers who pointed out that some widely covered papers had been overlooked.      Carbon Brief

Climate and energy news

EPA poised to push carbon rule compliance to 2022, according to agency document 
President Obama's flagship Clean Power Plan, meant to cut US power plant emissions by 30%, is due to be finalised early next week, reports EnergyWire, based on an administration document later taken offline. The final rule will give states more time to comply, EnergyWire says. The rule will also be stronger than the draft, reports Bloomberg, which  adds that it will offer new incentives for renewables. The Hill also carries the story, along with  reaction from opponents that it says "dismiss" the expected deadline extension, arguing the rule will "inflict serious pain on the economy". The Hill also reports on lobbying by some business groups against moves to tighten ozone standards. Meanwhile Grist asks what a relaxed Clean Power Plan deadline would mean for the US pledge to international climate talks.      EnergyWire 

Earth now halfway to UN global warming limit 
The earth's surface is now more than 1C warmer than in pre-industrial times according to analysis for New Scientist, based on all but one of the main trackers of the trend. Its front-page says "the first big climate threshold is upon us". We're halfway to the outcome the world wants to avoid, the magazine says, referring to the internationally agreed 2C warming limit to avoid dangerous climate change.      New Scientist 

World Bank rejects energy industry notion that coal can cure poverty 
Continued use of coal is exacting a heavy cost on some of the world's poorest countries, says World Bank climate envoy Rachel Kyte. In comments reported by the Guardian, Kyte says "globally we need to wean ourselves off coal" because of "huge social cost" related to local health impacts and climate. When it comes to lifting countries out of poverty coal is part of the problem, not the solution, Kyte says.     The Guardian 

Oregon bridge danglers hope to delay Shell's Arctic drilling 
Protestors in Portland, Oregon are dangling below a bridge in an effort to halt a ship carrying equipment to Alaska, where Shell hopes to drill for oil for the first time since 2012. The Guardian also has the story. US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton says she has "doubts" over permits for Arctic drilling in the context of "our clean energy, climate change agenda", reports The Hill. Shell is cutting 6,500 jobs and will cut capital spending by a fifth in response to falling oil prices, says the     Reuters 

Ahead of Paris, Russia becomes a climate policy wallflower 
With just months to go before the Paris UN climate summit, Russia is in a "bizarre diplomatic limbo", says RTCC. Given international sanctions post-Crimea, it is not clear if the country has any real allies, RTCC says.     RTCC

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Updated: The climate change papers most featured in the media

  • 29 Jul 2015, 15:45
  • Robert McSweeney
Front covers of the most influential climate papers

Climate papers | Carbon Brief

In our recent series on the top climate change papers, we brought you which ones scientists think are the  most influential and which are the most cited by other researchers.

With the help of Altmetric, we also looked into which research articles have made the biggest splash in the news and on social media. But, as a few eagle-eyed readers pointed out to us, it seems there were some papers that were overlooked.

Altmetric has now expanded their search to make sure no paper is missed. So here's our revised take on which papers have made the biggest impact in the wider world.

Media mentions

Altmetric tracks when academic papers are mentioned in online news articles and on social media platforms, such Twitter and Facebook. It collates these mentions and gives each paper a  score for how much attention it received. Featuring in a major national newspaper will contribute a bigger score to a paper than being in a niche publication. A paper with no mentions will score zero, for example, while an article with a score of  over 20 has received significant attention from journalists or perhaps caused a stir online.

To match our analysis of the most cited climate change papers, Altmetric ran a keyword search for papers mentioning "climate change" or "global warming". However, the original Altmetric search capped the number of papers it returned to 10,000, which meant some high-scoring papers were missed off.

Altmetric's founder, Euan Adie, explains to Carbon Brief:

"What I didn't realize when pulling this data the first time round was that the search engine I used to find articles with the two terms we were interested in only returned the 'most relevant' results. Instead of 17,000 results we got back 10,000, and amongst the missing articles were many that, to be consistent, should have been in the top 100. This means the original data was incomplete and the ranking was out; the updated data fixes this."

Altmetric have now extended this cap to 20,000 papers, and intend to remove the cap completely in the near future. You can try out the tool yourself with the Altmetric Explorer.

From the new set of search results, we filtered out all the entries that were news, editorials and books, leaving just research articles to analyse, which we then trimmed to a top 100.

Unfortunately, this did mean cutting out the highest-scoring climate change article of any kind, which was a spoof  News & Views piece in Nature on the reemergence of dragons due to warmer temperatures, published on 1st April this year.  

Finally, one point to note is that Altmetric only started tracking papers in July 2011, so this analysis only covers papers published over the past four years.

So what research have we all been reading and tweeting about?

Top paper

The top-ranked article is "High-Resolution Global Maps of 21st-Century Forest Cover Change" by lead author Prof Matthew Hansen at the University of Maryland in the US, which was published in November 2013.

The paper describes how the researchers used satellite data to map global forest change between 2000 and 2012. They found that forest losses of around 2.3m square kilometers (sq km) outweighed gains of 0.8m sq km. With the help of Google Earth, the team created an  interactive mapping tool to show changes in forests down to a resolution of just 30 metres.

Hansen and his colleagues found forest clearance was largest in the tropics, with increases in deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia, Paraguay, Bolivia, Zambia and Angola offsetting a reduction in Brazil.

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Paris 2015: Tracking country climate pledges

  • 29 Jul 2015, 12:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff

Updated 29 July with Monaco's INDC.

31 March marked the loose deadline for countries to submit their pledges to the UN on how far they intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

These promises, known as "intended nationally determined contributions", or INDCs, will determine the success of the deal that the UN hopes to sign off in Paris in December this year.

While only five countries plus the EU made the deadline, more than a hundred others are expected to filter in throughout the coming eight months.

Carbon Brief is tracking the pledges made by each country. We'll update this post as each INDC comes in.

To find out exactly what an INDC is and why it matters, read our INDC explainer.


Who has pledged an INDC so far, and what percentage of the world's emissions are covered. Credit: Rosamund Pearce, Carbon Brief, based on EU data

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Daily Briefing | Biomass is the way ahead, insists Drax as it begins review

  • 29 Jul 2015, 09:00
  • Carbon Brief Staff
Burning wood pellets.

Wood pellets | Shutterstock

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Explainer: New negotiating text provides clarity on UN climate deal 
Carbon Brief walks you through the new document - or "tool" - released late last week by the United Nations which outlines what the wording of the Paris climate deal could look like. The new text is based on the Geneva negotiating text - an 86-page document that countries constructed in February, following a major round of talks in December 2014 in Lima. The new text has been reduced to 76 pages through a process of careful streamlining and is now divided into three distinct categories.     Carbon Brief

Hillary Clinton's renewable goals could significantly raise US climate ambition 
Renewable energy goals announced by Hillary Clinton, who hopes to succeed President Obama in 2017, could significantly raise US climate ambition, according to Carbon Brief analysis. Clinton wants renewables to supply a third of US electricity by 2027, enough to power "every home in America". Our analysis shows this could shave a further 4 percentage points off US emissions, against its existing pledge to cut carbon by 26-28% by 2025.     Carbon Brief 

Climate and energy news

Biomass is the way ahead, insists Drax as it begins review 
A strategic review is under way at Drax, which runs the UK's largest coal-fired power plant, after it admitted that uncertainty over green subsidies for its co-burning of biomass has left a question mark over the half of its North Yorkshire power station that still burns coal. Dorothy Thompson, the chief executive, said that burning coal would remain a viable business over the next four years but could not predict how long that would persist after 2019. She said that the conversion of the remainder of the station to burning wood pellets would depend on a study being conducted for DECC on the total cost of different forms of low-carbon energy, including the cost of accommodating intermittent output from wind and solar. The Telegraph says Drax has "sparked a row" with other green energy producers for "attacking" wind and solar for being "costly and unreliable". Carbon Pulse focuses on Drax's financial results which reveal that the company saw its CO2 emissions fall 12.8% in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period last year. This was as a result of bringing a second biomass unit online. Bloomberg notes that Drax's earnings were up 18% as its biomass investments shielded it from rising carbon prices. BusinessGreen also carries the story. In May, Carbon Brief published an in-depth investigation into whether burning biomass can help solve climate change.     The Times 

Later Deadline Expected in Obama's Climate Plan 
The final version of President Obama's signature climate change policy is expected to extend an earlier timeline for states to significantly cut emissions from power plants, according to people familiar with the plan, says Davenport. The initial proposal would have required that states to submit plans for cutting carbon pollution by 2016, with an option to extend the deadline to 2017, and it would have required states to put their plans in place and start demonstrating emissions cuts by 2020. However, an extension could see the deadline for states to submit their plans lengthened to 2018, and it would give states two more years, until 2022, to comply with those plans. But, adds Davenport, "a person familiar with the rules said they would include incentives designed to reward states that comply as early as 2020."     New York Times 

Turning off street lights does not cause increase in traffic accidents or crime, says study 
Turning street lights off late at night to save money does not seem to trigger an increase in either traffic accidents or crime according to a survey of local councils in England and Wales where such cuts have been made. Data gathered from 62 out of 174 local authorities on road casualties and on crimes that may have benefited from streets being in the dark has failed to find a link with reductions in street lighting, scientists said. The BBC adds that the researchers said the findings could help save money and reduce carbon emissions. The AA said the results were "extremely surprising" and differed from their own analysis of inquest findings. The Times also carries the story.     The Independent 

DECC urged to extend 'unfair' solar subsidy consultation 
Lawyers for Friends of the Earth have written to Amber Rudd calling on her to extend the consultation period for the government's proposed changes to solar subsidies, warning the current consultation is "unfair", contrary to the government's consultation guidelines, and potentially in breach of administrative law. The letter argues that DECC should immediately move to extend the consultation by four weeks in order to give all interested stakeholders sufficient time to respond.     BusinessGreen 

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Explainer: New negotiating text provides clarity on UN climate deal

  • 28 Jul 2015, 17:00
  • Sophie Yeo

UN Photo/Mark Garten

The United Nations has released a new document outlining what the Paris climate deal could look like, which countries hope to sign in December this year.

The two diplomats responsible for steering the challenging negotiations towards a successful outcome in December, Dan Reifsnyder from the US and Ahmed Djoghlaf from Algeria, released a new text - or a "tool", as they are calling it - last Friday.

It is the product of a six weeks of work, following  the latest round of talks in June. It attempts to summarise the latest positions and thinking from the 196 parties involved in crafting the new deal, which will guide international efforts to tackle climate change beyond 2020.


The new text is based on the  Geneva negotiating text - an 86-page document that countries constructed in February, following a major round of talks in December 2014 in Lima.

The new text has been reduced to 76 pages through a process of careful streamlining. This largely involved erasing duplication and redundancies from the Geneva text - a messy, if comprehensive, document, that had, as far as it was possible, attempted to accommodate all parties' views.

The co-chairs have not removed any substantive language or options from the text concerning the final content of the agreement. This sort of whittling down is the responsibility of the parties, and is likely to commence in earnest in Bonn in upcoming sessions, the first of which begins this August

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