A new website that combines dramatic images from space with expert analysis of how humans are changing the planet will launch on World Earth Day (22 April).
EarthTime ties together diverse data layers to show the patterns and connections behind some of the major social and political trends of the past two decades – and how they are inscribed into fast-changing landscapes.
The platform has already been used in public outreach in schools and museums, and to inform world leaders at World Economic Forum events of major environmental and geoeconomic shifts, from air pollution to inequality. It uses images captured by NASA satellites since 1984.
The vision, and long-term goal, is to better inform everyone – including individuals, business heads and policy-makers – about the lives we lead, the decisions we make and the impact we have on the planet.
Nine expert analyses on global challenges will be launched on World Earth Day (22 April): deforestation, city growth, coral bleaching, fires at night, glaciers, renewables, sea-level rise, surface-water gain and loss and urban fragility. Other layers will be added in the months and years ahead. You can see them at www.earthtime.org.
EarthTime was developed by CREATE Lab (the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment Lab) at Carnegie Mellon University, in partnership with the World Economic Forum. It draws on the Forum’s network of experts to give analyses and to tell stories. Users will soon be able to create their own stories.
EarthTime uses more than 300 free, open-source, geospatial datasets – an unprecedented number for visualizations of this kind. Expert opinions make sense of the data and the connections between them allowing a layering of narratives (e.g., how did rise in the global demand for meat trigger deforestation, a major contributor to climate change?). These stories are combined with images from space captured by NASA satellites between 1984 and 2016.
Current datasets come from the World Bank, the UNHCR, NASA, Berkeley Earth, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Climate Central, S&P Global, Kudelski, the International Renewable Energy Agency and WWF, to name a few. New data providers are being added constantly.
“EarthTime tries to build the common ground that we believe is essential to the discourse that we all must have as stewards of our planet and our joint future,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, Professor of Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University, and Director, CREATE Lab.
“The Earth is changing dramatically. No single discipline can make sense of all that is now happening and no citizen is free from the consequences of what we all do next. We all must be involved in understanding Earth’s changes and how we can work together to bring about our desired sustainable future into reality.”
Nourbakhsh also serves as a Global Future Council member at the World Economic Forum. His research focuses on human-robot collaboration.
COP-26 Results: High Hopes for Low Temperatures
The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP-26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Glasgow from October 31 to November 13, 2021 with delegations from almost 200 countries participating. The strategic goal of the Summit was to sum up the results achieved during six years since the adoption of the Paris Agreement in 2015. Combating deforestation, phasing down of coal and increasing financial support for developing countries are among the successes of COP-26 however it revealed certain disagreements.
Conference of strategic importance
At the opening ceremony of COP-26, Chairman Alok Sharma stated that the decisions made in Glasgow should be more vigorous than those of Paris. In Scotland’s largest city, the parties to the UNFCCC, after several unsuccessful attempts made in previous years, were again trying to hammer out the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement. In addition, the participants were discussing plans for adaptation to the consequences of climate change that can no longer be prevented. The agenda was really demanding.
Ambitious agenda but unfavorable background
There were four issues on the COP-26 agenda. Countries should: 1) submit programs on carbon emissions reduction to net zero by the middle of this century; 2) propose programs to restore affected ecosystems; 3) mobilize finance to achieve all the climate goals; 4) agree on a procedure for reporting on the implementation of the Paris Agreement.
However, a breakthrough was unlikely even before the Summit began. The G-20 meeting that had taken place the day before cast serious doubt on a multilateral climate agreement between the world ’s largest economies. The meeting in Rome resulted in the 20 states failing to reach an agreement on reducing the deadline for achieving zero emissions and abandoning coal-fired power. Although the G-20 states upheld the goal of limiting the temperature rise, some countries avoided making firm commitments on how to keep its growth beyond the threshold of to 1.5°C.
Forest conservation: a step forward
Over 100 world leaders agreed on a declaration on stopping deforestation. The key point of the document was the joint work on stopping and reversing “the loss of forests and land degradation by 2030”. The states plan to increase investments in agriculture, in the conservation and restoration of forests, as well as in support of indigenous communities who are struggling due to deforestation.
This is one of the most significant achievements of COP-26 as among the signatories to the agreement was Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, whom environmentalists recently accused in the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity over the deforestation of the Amazon region.
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin in a video address to the forum on the protection of forests expressed confidence that the Glasgow Declaration “will undoubtedly serve the goals of the Paris Agreement on reducing carbon dioxide emissions”. He added that Russia, in an effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060, relies, among other tools, on the unique resource of its trees, since about 20% of all forests of the world are located in Russia.
Abandoning coal: modest progress
Another meaningful issue on the COP-26 agenda was the abandonment of coal, and certain results were achieved as well. Firstly, major international banks pledged to stop financing coal-fired power plants by the end of 2021. Secondly, 40 countries made a commitment to gradually abandon coal-fired energy – developed countries by 2030, developing by 2040.
At the same time, the Financial Times characterizes the wording of the declaration as vague as it does not set the exact deadline. The document states that the countries should abandon coal by a certain date or as soon as possible after its expiration. In addition, the main users of coal energy – China, India, the US, Australia, Russia have not signed the declaration.
Alexey Kokorin, head of the WWF Russia Climate and Energy Program called the declaration a “conditional agreement”. The countries-signatories allocate certain financial resources to developing states so that they can abandon coal. If Russia had signed the agreement, it would have become a voluntary donor, not a recipient of climate finance.
At the same time, Jamie Peters from the environmental organization Friends of the Earth maintained that the key meaning of this “unimpressive agreement” was that everyone was allowed to continue using coal for many years to come.
Reducing emissions: methane on the agenda for the first time
Back in April 2021 during the virtual Climate Summit Russian President Vladimir Putin designated the reduction of methane as one of the main directions in combating global warming. During COP-26 the leaders held an event dedicated to the methane emissions reductions for the first time in many years. The US and the EU put forward a joint initiative on reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030 which was supported by 105 countries.
China, Russia and India, three out of top five states in methane emissions, did not join the agreement. However, the initiative was supported by Brazil, the country which Climate Watch Data includes in the list of leading methane emitters.
The rationale for Russia not to join the initiative of the Western powers may be economy. In the countries that willingly sign up to the agreement, the share of the oil-and-gas sector is significantly lower than in Russia. According to Igor Makarov, head of the HSE Climate Change Economics Research and Training Laboratory, in Russia methane emissions are linked to both natural gas production and transportation. So, it is challenging for the country to take on such commitments right now.
According to Alexey Kokorin, there is no point in joining this initiative either ideologically (there is no China and India in it) or technically (it is necessary to deal with mine methane, leaks in gas and oil fields, which is more expensive than energy efficiency, energy conservation and forest fire control).
Russia’s position was also shared by some countries from the Anglo-Saxon world. For instance, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke out against a concrete deadline for phasing out coal and pointed out that accelerating the reduction of methane emissions by 2030 will result in high costs for farmers engaged in dairy farming and animal husbandry.
Carbon neutrality: commitments without breakthroughs
Among the main topics at COP-26 was carbon neutrality. Even though many leaders spoke of it the goals set vary both in deadlines and in feasibility. Chinese leader Xi Jinping announced that the PRC would strive to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. The Prime Minister of India promised to reduce emissions to zero by 2070, setting a zero target for the country for the first time. Environmentalists called the Indian president’s goals “ambitious”, but the Nature magazine noted that it was probably only about CO2, with other greenhouse gases being out of the plan.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, addressing the summit virtually, maintained that carbon neutrality in Russia should be achieved by 2060. The international representative of Greenpeace characterized the goal as not ambitious enough.
Meaning of the final Glasgow Agreement
The stumbling block during the negotiations on the COP-26 final statement was Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. It envisages specific mechanisms for international the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions. This is why the states had to prolong the summit till November 13. Additionally, this very article prevented consensus on the text of COP-25 held in December 2019 in Madrid, which resulted in a failure. COPs are far from punctuality. Out of 26 summits, only seven ended on time (on Friday) 14 ended on Saturday and five were held till Sunday.
The final agreement, published late in the evening on November 13, disappointed many parties. The wording of certain points was softened. For instance, instead of “phasing out” coal and other fossil fuels, the participants made an eleventh-hour decision to use “phasing down”. India, the third largest emitter, insisted on this change. Meanwhile, Special Representative of the President of Russia on climate Ruslan Edelgeriev stated that Russia welcomed the result. Nevertheless, the COP-26 final document has certain breakthroughs:
- It calls on the countries to strengthen national commitments and by 2022 renew Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to achieve zero emissions and curb global warming within 1,5°C.
- The first measure will be combined with an annual political roundtable to consider global progress report and a top-level summit in 2023.
- The document contains a pledge to increase financial assistance to poor and developing countries to combat climate change.
The participants of COP-26 touched upon the issue of the global green transition based on four principles: energy efficiency, decarbonization, decentralization and digitalization. Many important statements have been made during COP-26. The countries have promised to achieve carbon neutrality by the middle of the century, significantly reduce the extraction and use of fossil fuels, completely stop the processes of deforestation, allocate considerable funds for the green transition. However, COP-26 also has its disappointments: ambitions of many countries remained weak, mistrust between developed and developing countries increased, and the real reduction of emissions was partially replaced by compensations.
Although the declaration was signed by almost 200 delegations, every point of it sparks disagreement. The Glasgow Agreement will not replace the Paris Agreement. It acts as a rulebook on the implementation of the 2015 Paris commitments. It defines more concrete actions in financing measures to combat climate change, mitigating its consequences and adapting to the ongoing climate changes.
What awaits us in the future?
Climate Action Tracker has published a report that shows that the risks of rising temperatures in the world are even higher. Even with the current goals of emissions reduction, by 2100 the temperature in the world could rise by 2.4 degrees. It means that the strategies announced at COP-26 would not meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
Today, the world can only effect the green transition by a gradual replacement of technologies. It is obvious that electricity has been and will remain the main energy source for humanity. But the question is: how to accumulate it more efficiently and more environmentally friendly in the new realities? Hydrogen is recognized as a viable option. At the same time, the issues of green transition and carbon emissions reduction are over politicized and often do not take into account regional peculiarities of the countries. For now, the easiest step to make is to continue focusing on energy conservation and energy efficiency.
Afterwards, it is necessary to reconsider the attitude to the types of energy generation and modernize them according to the environmental agenda. It is important to use technologies that meet economic needs and cause minimal harm to the environment. It means that Russia should rely on three main areas during the energy transition: nuclear power, hydrogen, and natural gas generation.
From our partner RIAC
Just How Bad Are Airplanes?
With the COP26 concluded a little over a week ago (November 13), here is something to ponder. Must we travel as much as we do on airplanes?
A flight from London to San Francisco releases approximately 5.5 tonnes of CO2 per person. By contrast, an entire year of driving a typical passenger car emits 4.6 metric tonnes. More than a whole year’s car emissions released in one 11-hour flight.
Aviation is estimated to account for approximately 2.5% of global CO2 emissions. While this number may not sound significant, if aviation were a country, it would be sixth in the world. Forecasts estimate that by 2050, approximately 43 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide will be generated by aviation worldwide. And when the damage from aircraft includes the discharge of other gases and vapor trails in addition to the CO2, the total jumps to 5% of global emissions.
Contrails, the white streaks we see in the sky, are produced when hot exhaust gases come into contact with low-pressure, cold air. They contain black carbon particles. Moisture condenses on these to form ice. Though some contrails only last a few minutes, some join with cirrus clouds and other contrails, and this larger mixture can remain for up to eighteen hours. This contrail cloud mixture causes an effect known as ‘radiative forcing’. The balance between heat emitted from the earth and that coming from the sun is altered. And this causes a change in climate. Thus, there is a double negative to aircraft – the CO2 emissions, and the radiative forcing effect from the contrails.
It turns out the damage from contrails can be mitigated by changing flight paths. Researchers at Imperial College London have found that flight altitude changes of just 2,000 feet could curb the effect. A study of Japan’s airspace found that changing just 1.7 percent of flights could cut contrail climate forcing by 59%.
Small changes in flight paths can significantly curb the impact of each flight, and at low cost. If these changes are implemented throughout the world, the effects could be significant.
Some airlines are leading the way towards environmental sustainability. Last winter, Air France KLM Martinair launched the world’s first sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) program to reduce CO2 emissions.
Then there are innovators devising environmentally friendly small aircraft to one day meet some passengers’ needs. As a start, the company Pipistrel received EU certification for its electric two-seater plane a little over a year ago. And Swiss flying school AlpinAirPlanes installed solar panels to recharge them (Engineering and Technology Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 7, August 2021).
For larger aircraft Rolls-Royce is in the process of developing hydrogen-fuelled engines that are likely to be available by 2035. They have three concept designs: a turboprop for 100 passengers, a turbofan for 200 passengers, and a futuristic blended-wing body design. Unfortunately there are many obstacles with hydrogen that lead some experts to believe that hydrogen aircraft are unlikely to be available until 2050 (Engineering and Technology Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 7, August 2021). Still, they do give us some hope for the future.
In the short term, Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), has been introduced by Air France. It is a kerosene-like fuel but not derived from fossil sources. Such biofuels have difficulties of their own. It takes an enormous amount of crops to produce enough energy for aircraft, and the decision of the best use for those crops – food versus airlines — is certainly not a clear cut one. SAF is a very good idea but will be slow in transition, and during the next four decades when mitigating emissions is crucial, we must find alternatives.
Hydrogen or biofuels are the two likely choices for the future, and hydrogen as we know is a long process in development. In the meantime, while scientists work on improving flying options, what is the best way for us to reduce our carbon footprint, and still travel when we need to?
For domestic travel, high-speed rail proves a good alternative. The Brussels-London Eurostar launch caused aviation along that route to decrease by 55%. In other instances high-speed rail has been shown to reduce air transport by as much as 80%. The International Energy Agency has summarized the direct impact of launching high-speed lines on the corresponding flight paths in a telling chart. It notes that the Paris-Strasbourg train decreased air travel by over 80%. The Paris-London and the Seville-Madrid train routes decreased corresponding aviation travel by over 50%, and in China the Taipei-Kaohsiung train decreased flights by 80%.
Domestic flight travel emissions have increased 17% since 1990 and they continue to grow. But where high speed rail is present, this is being mitigated. Building more high-speed trains between common flight destinations could be part of the solution.
Thus connecting major cities like New York, San Francisco and Chicago through high-speed rail could significantly reduce carbon emissions. That, and allowing online meetings to be the modus operandi for the corporate world could together have a real impact. The pandemic has given us a window of opportunity – a chance to try virtual meetings and to see how they perform. And they work well.
There is no simple answer to the problem of carbon emissions; there are many changes that can have a cumulative positive effect. Here are a few ways to help reduce the climate impact of aircraft — this is by no means an exhaustive list, only a beginning:
1. Use the Cloud, Not the Conference Room
Simply reducing flights when meetings can be conducted online has a huge impact. The International Civil Aviation Organization has verified that global passenger traffic decreased a huge 60 percent over 2020. While the pandemic mindset exists, let’s keep the conference room online and make it a permanent fixture. The cloud is better for the planet, better for families to spend more time together, and better for our pets — no need to be left alone or boarded for that business trip.
2. Slightly Alter Flight Altitudes
Imperial College London has shown that at a low cost and with only minor flight altitude adjustments, we can reduce damaging radiative forcing that contributes to global warming.
3. Fund Environmentally Friendly SAF Programs
With airlines struggling as they are today, government funding for SAF research and airplane innovation could help, especially in the long-term.
4. High-Speed Rail
Our government should build high-speed trains, particularly between commonly used flight paths. And when we have the option of a high-speed train instead of a jet, we should use it. Fortunately, the research shows we do. So it is just a matter of putting some tracks down, starting to build, and fighting the airline lobby.
All of it will take time; some we can do now.
Results of the COP-26 conference – An analysis
The much-discussed COP-26 conference is over. The conference was scheduled to take place in Glasgow, Scotland from October 31 to November 12, but the time was extended by one day as there was no consensus within the stipulated time. In addition, the next 2022 and 2023 COP conferences will be held in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates respectively. The main goal of the UN at the COP-26 conference was to halve carbon emissions by 2030, which would require a 45% reduction in carbon emissions. Moreover, by 2050 emissions will have to be brought to zero percent. The UN’s second goal at the conference was to increase assistance to the poorest countries in the climate crisis, so that they can adapt and spend money to address the damage caused by climate change.
Climate experts say global temperatures have risen by 0.5 degrees Celsius in recent decades to 1.1 degrees Celsius. Due to this, various natural disasters including floods, tidal surges, cyclones and fires have increased abnormally. The United Nations has said that if the current rate of carbon emissions continues, temperatures will rise to 2.7 degrees Celsius. The increase in the use of fossil fuels is 100% responsible for this, said Associate Director of Oxford University.
Climate change was pledged 100 billion a year in 2009. It was said that this assistance will be effective by 2020. However, it has been postponed again till 2023, but this promise is not being fully fulfilled. As a result, the poorest countries affected by climate change are being hit hardest. The UN’s IPCC says 100 billion a year in compensation will not benefit poor countries affected by climate change. Now it will take a trillion dollars a year to deal with their losses.
If the temperature rises by two degrees Celsius, it will cost billions of dollars every year in Africa alone. The IPCC also claims that spending 1.8 trillion over the next decade on sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture and mangrove forest conservation to tackle the climate crisis would avoid 7.2 trillion in losses. On the other hand, scientists say that if tough climate policies are not implemented now, 200 million people a year will need new humanitarian aid by 2050. Which is twice as much as it is now.
However, three consecutive agreements were drafted at the COP-26, because of disagreements over how to reduce atmospheric altitude. Finally, under the pressure of China and India, the word ‘phase down’ was added instead of ‘phase out’ in the agreement on coal use. More than 200 countries have agreed to an agreement called the Glasgow Climate Pact, which aims to increase climate crisis compensation by 2025 and update each country’s NDCs each year. Now it will take a long time for the UN member states to sign. It is difficult to say now how many countries will sign in the end.
Meanwhile, the pros and cons of the deal are being discussed around the world. In it, most of the negotiators have expressed a negative attitude, especially people and environmentalists from least developed and developing countries. Young people have called the conference a ‘greenwash’. The chairman of the conference, British Minister Alok Sharma, said, “Fragile victory.” According to the UN president, the agreement only aims at a temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius. “This is an important step, but not enough,” he said. “It’s a big step,” said Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the United Kingdom. US Climate Ambassador John Kerry said Paris had created the field and the Glasgow race had started from there.
According to experts, the decision taken at the Glasgow Conference, if implemented properly, will prevent the rise in atmospheric altitude even if it does not decrease to the desired level, which is beneficial for the world. But there is no guarantee that the agreement will be fully implemented, as evidenced by the Paris Agreement. The agreement was not fully implemented. As a result, the world has to pay its ultimate compensation. The same could be said of the Glasgow Agreement. Needless to say, the agreement is a beacon of hope, on the basis of which we can move forward.
Apart from the COP-26 agreement, there are a number of commitments to reduce carbon emissions by 2030. Such as: stop using coal, protect forests, reduce methane gas, build climate tolerant and low carbon emissions healthcare systems, stop building fossil fuel based vehicles, net zero etc. In addition, Scotland has initiated funding (1.4 million) to fund climate change issues. The biggest surprise of the COP-26 conference is the announcement by the US and China to work together to tackle the climate crisis.
The unexpected announcement said the two countries would work together to keep atmospheric temperature rise within 1.5 degrees Celsius within this decade. The United Nations and the European Union have called the announcement a “very urgent and encouraging step.” Then there are India, Russia and the EU. Now, if they join the Sino-US initiative, carbon emissions will be much lower.
Furthermore, 190 countries and organizations have pledged to stop using coal. Many countries and organizations have announced to stop financing the coal sector. If this promise is implemented, the amount of carbon emissions will be greatly reduced. So it is conceivable that the rest of the world will follow suit. And if that is the case then the great sacrifice of renewable energy will start worldwide. The use of nuclear power to meet the demand for electricity will also increase a lot. 124 countries have pledged to stop deforestation.
One of the ways to save the planet is to get the necessary forest cover and 25% forest cover, which all countries have to create, and it has to be fruit, herbal and forest based. Planting fruit trees will meet the nutritional needs. Besides, the demand for wood for furniture will also be met. Also, if medicinal plants are planted, the demand for medicine will be met. Therefore, in the case of tree planting, all these must be given importance. Tall and strong trees to deal with storms, floods, tidal surges and salinity should be planted in coastal areas and drought tolerant trees should be planted in desert areas. With this, all-round measures have to be taken to protect the forest. Otherwise, the forest hunters will destroy the forest as it is now if they get a chance.
There will be huge employment in the creation of forests. Social forests are very helpful in alleviating poverty. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the government and the society as well as the individual to create and protect the necessary forests in a planned manner. In collaboration with the World Health Organization, 50 countries have pledged to build climate-tolerant and low-carbon health care systems. If it is implemented, people will benefit a lot. 90 countries have pledged to provide private funding to achieve net zero. If it is implemented, the environment will improve a lot.
At the COP-26 conference, hundreds of countries pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030. It did not say how it would be done. According to a recent research report, agriculture is responsible for 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, mostly due to methane gas. Agriculture and livestock together produce about 40% methane. Cows emit the most methane among cattle. A cow releases about 220 pounds of methane a year. According to the United Nations, the tendency to consume beef and milk will increase by 70% in the next few years. The number of cows will also increase.
As a result, methane will be emitted at a proportional rate. So global warming will increase further, but there is no reason to worry. This is because Jelp in the UK and Cargill in the US have created a special cow mask to protect cows from methane. Although like a mask, it is actually a device that is attached to the cow’s nose. The device filters the methane emitted in a special process and converts it into carbon dioxide.
So now it is necessary to make arrangements for all the cows to wear masks. Then the amount of methane gas will decrease. Experts are talking about changing diets to reduce carbon emissions. Every year, 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases are emitted for animal feed. Scientists are of the opinion that it is possible to reduce the level of carbon in the atmosphere by increasing the speed of carbon storage at the bottom of the ocean.
According to the British government, during the COP-26 summit, six of the world’s leading car manufacturers (Volvo, Ford Motors, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz, BYD and Land Rover) announced that they would stop making fossil fuel-based vehicles by 2040. This did not include Toyota, Volkswagen AG, Stellantis, Honda, Nissan, BMW and Hyundai. But there is no way to make the world carbon-free without their involvement. Because, different countries have already banned the use of fuel based vehicles. By 2030, most countries will do the same. According to the IAA, the transportation sector is responsible for 25% of global carbon emissions.
Road vehicles are most responsible for this. Bill Gates, in an article published based on his experience of attending the COP-26 conference and surrounding issues, said that by 2050, the world will have to emit zero carbon. Achieving this will require a green industrial revolution, where we will de-carbonate virtually the entire physical economy. This will include making things, generating electricity, moving around, producing food and heating and cooling buildings. However, this will require extensive innovation. Emphasis should be placed on innovation of environment friendly technology.
However, the earth must be saved. Human, fauna and biodiversity must be protected. Therefore, the agreements and commitments of the COP-26 conference must be fully implemented to limit the altitude of the atmosphere to 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2030. This is the responsibility of all the people and countries of the world. However, the greatest responsibility lies with the rich. Because, they have the main responsibility for increasing the height of the atmosphere. They emit 30 times more carbon emissions than the poor. So they have a greater responsibility to reduce carbon emissions. The rich must help 134 poor and developing countries to implement the Green Revolution, because they can’t afford that.
The main responsibility in this case lies with the World Bank, IMF and international financial institutions. Otherwise the green revolution of the countries will not succeed. As a result, the loss of carbon emissions will continue. Needless to say, it should not be based on rich countries alone. Poor and developing countries should also try their best.
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