Securing decent living standards for all while reducing global energy use

Securing decent living standards for all while reducing global energy use

Sciences News published the University of Leeds‘ Securing decent living standards for all while reducing global energy use could good news for those petro economies of the MENA region. Jefim Vogel’s proposed approach to the must-do energy transition might be helpful in that it provides little extra time for its implementation. Anyway, here it is.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Daily News Egypt.

Securing decent living standards for all while reducing global energy use

July 5, 2021

According to new research, fundamental changes in our economies are required to secure decent living standards for all in the struggle against climate breakdown.

Governments need to dramatically improve public services, reduce income disparities, scale back resource extraction, and abandon economic growth in affluent countries, for people around the world to thrive whilst cutting global average energy use in half.

Without such fundamental changes, the study warns, we face an existential dilemma: in our current economic system, the energy savings required to avert catastrophic climate changes might undermine living standards; while the improvements in living standards required to end material poverty would need large increases in energy use, further exacerbating climate breakdown.


The study, led by the University of Leeds and published today (30 June 2021) in Global Environmental Change, examined what policies could enable countries to use less energy whilst providing the whole population with ‘decent living standards’ — conditions that satisfy fundamental human needs for food, water, sanitation, health, education, and livelihoods.

Lead author Jefim Vogel, PhD researcher at Leeds’ Sustainability Research Institute, explained: “Decent living standards are crucial for human well-being, and reducing global energy use is crucial for averting catastrophic climate changes. Truly sustainable development would mean providing decent living standards for everyone at much lower, sustainable energy and resource use levels.

“But in the current economic system, no country in the world accomplishes that — not even close. It appears that our economic system is fundamentally misaligned with the aspirations of sustainable development: it is unfit for the challenges of the 21st century.”

Co-author Professor Julia Steinberger, from the University of Leeds and the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, added: “The problem is that in our current economic system, all countries that achieve decent living standards use much more energy than what can be sustained if we are to avert dangerous climate breakdown.”

By 2050, global energy use needs to be as low as 27 gigajoules (GJ) of final energy per person to reach the aspirations of the Paris Agreement of limiting global warming to 1.5 °C without relying on speculative future technologies to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That means current global average energy use (55 GJ per person) must be cut in half. In comparison, affluent countries like the UK (81 GJ per person) or Spain (77 GJ per person) need to reduce their average energy use by as much as 65%, France (95 GJ per person) by more than 70%. The most energy-hungry countries like the USA (204 GJ per person) or Canada (232 GJ per person) need to cut by as much as 90%.

However, a major concern is that such profound reductions in energy use might undermine living standards, as currently, only countries with high energy use accomplish decent living standards.

Even the energy-lightest of the countries that achieve decent living standards — spearheaded by Argentina (53 GJ per person), Cyprus (55 GJ per person), and Greece (63 GJ per person) — use at least double the ‘sustainable’ level of 27 GJ per person, and many countries use even much more.

On the other hand, in all countries with energy use levels below 27 GJ per person, large parts of the population currently suffer from precarious living standards — for example, in India (19 GJ per person) and Zambia (23 GJ per person), where at least half the population is deprived of fundamental needs.

It appears that in the current economic system, reducing energy use in affluent countries could undermine living standards, while improving living standards in less affluent countries would require large increases in energy use and thus further exacerbate climate breakdown.

But this is not inevitable, the research team show: fundamental changes in economic and social priorities could resolve this dilemma of sustainable development.

Co-author Dr Daniel O’Neill from Leeds’ School of earth and Environment explained: “Our findings suggest that improving public services could enable countries to provide decent living standards at lower levels of energy use. Governments should offer free and high-quality public services in health, education, and public transport.

“We also found that fairer income distribution is crucial for achieving decent living standards at low energy use. To reduce existing income disparities, governments could raise minimum wages, provide a Universal Basic Income, and introduce a maximum income level. We also need much higher taxes on high incomes and lower taxes on low incomes.”

Another essential factor, the research team found, is affordable and reliable electricity and modern fuels. While this is already near-universal in affluent countries, it still lacks billions of people in lower-income countries, highlighting important infrastructure needs.

Perhaps the most crucial and perhaps the most surprising finding is that economic growth beyond moderate levels of affluence is detrimental for aspirations of sustainable development.

Professor Steinberger explained: “In contrast with wide-spread assumptions, the evidence suggests that decent living standards require neither perpetual economic growth nor high levels of affluence.

“In fact, economic growth in affluent or even moderately affluent countries is detrimental for living standards. And it is also fundamentally unsustainable: economic growth is tied to increases in energy use, and thus makes the energy savings that are required for tackling climate breakdown virtually impossible.”

“Another detrimental factor is the extraction of natural resources such as coal, oil, gas or minerals — these industries need to be scaled back rapidly.”

Lead-author Jefim Vogel concluded: “In short, we need to abandon economic growth in affluent countries, scale back resource extraction, and prioritise public services, basic infrastructures and fair income distributions everywhere.

“With these policies in place, rich countries could slash their energy use and emissions whilst maintaining or even improving living standards, and less affluent countries could achieve decent living standards and end material poverty without needing vast amounts of energy. That’s good news for climate justice, good news for human well-being, good news for poverty eradication, and good news for energy security.

“But we need to be clear that achieving this ultimately requires a broader, more fundamental transformation of our growth-dependent economic system. In my view, the most promising and integral vision for the required transformation is the idea of degrowth — it is an idea whose time has come.”

The role of cities in climate governance

The role of cities in climate governance

Global Risks Insight goes into the problematics of the present-day urban built environment and finds out that the role of cities in climate governance is of paramount importance.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Doha, Qatar.

The role of cities in climate governance

By Einat ElazariJuly 1, 2021

The role of cities in climate governance 

Cohesive populations, proximity to their citizens, and data capabilities offer cities a pivotal role in climate action alongside national and international actors. If clear goals are set, local circumstances accounted for, and other governance partners effectively collaborated with, cities could lead in the fight against climate change.

The city

Cities and municipalities can be the most effective policy executors. Being closer to their citizens and having more cohesive populations than nation-states helps them rally residents for challenging endeavors. Cities also adapt more easily to new digital tools, utilising data to monitor public sentiment and sharpen outreach efforts.These attributes allow cities and municipalities to act swiftly in normal times and in crises.

Climate change and the city

Cities address climate change individually and as part of a governance ecosystem. They work with national governments and international institutions to affect climate goals, but above all, cities strive for ensuring livability for their residents against climate impacts. One report on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals lauds smart cities—which use data to enhance public service provision—as key drivers for achieving net-zero emissions by maximising energy efficiency, streamlining public transport, and monitoring air quality.

Areas where cities can enhance sustainability include:

Mobility: Cities may promote bicycle and scooter use by building segregated bike paths. They might also offer bike rentals, increase shuttles to transport hubs and initiate walkability programmes. Moreover, cities could electrify urban vehicle fleets by subsidizing car purchases through deals with car companies.

Energy efficiency: Cities can curtail energy consumption through smart building programmes. They may provide tax breaks and subsidies for building renovations and incentivise domestic generation sources like solar panels and geothermal pumps. Cities might also implement green building codes, exemplified by Brussel’s Passive House Standard.

Green growth: The urban green transition could bolster growth and provide payoffs at the national level. According to the OECD, green urban growth could lower the costs associated with national environmental targets through improved transportation and land-use. A World Economic Forum report suggests such initiatives can attract multinational firms committed to net-zero targets.

How cities go green

Certain conditions are required for cities to flourish within the climate governance ecosystem:

Clear objectives: Each city must consider its unique set of circumstances, factoring demographics, geography, development level, culture, and national climate objectives when setting sustainability goals. Only with clear and feasible goals will meaningful climate progress be measured. 

Political will: Lacking political will, complex and costly sustainability programmes are impossible. Cities will therefore seek to make the climate agenda a recurring theme of public discourse by integrating green programmes into daily urban life, becoming part of the culture of a city.

Budgeting: Sustainability objectives require adequate funding. Cities will therefore cultivate partners at higher levels of governance to ensure the resources at their disposal match their climate ambitions.

Obstacles to urban sustainability

report by the World Economic Forum suggests the rosy picture of urban climate mitigation is incomplete—confined to a few large, wealthy cities in North America, Europe, and China—overlooking failures particularly among the cities of South and Southeast Asia. Another study warns a lack of coordination between national authorities and other stakeholders will cause urban sustainability initiatives to fail in Malaysia, Indonesia, and India, risking that these cities “will lock in more fully to high-cost, high-carbon development paths.”

A success story

One Southeast Asian city which bucked the trend through the adroit application of the above prerequisites was Bandar Lampung in Indonesia. Bandar Lampung leveraged a cities network to inform its sustainability plans by conducting a series of learning dialogues with officials from other cities, NGOs, and universities. This process secured the political will to form a multi-stakeholder team responsible for assessing climate risks and prioritising adaptation strategies.

Being within the governance ecosystem

How cities cooperate with other governing actors will be critical to combating climate change. What cities can offer the governance ecosystem are its data capabilities, deft policy execution, and responsiveness to change.

Cities rely on national governments for funding and must execute sustainability initiatives in line with national goals. But cities often have the leeway to go further than national governments, especially where national climate action is lacking.

The relationship between cities and national governments goes both ways, with cities providing governments with data on climate policy implementation. When national policy encounters difficulties, local data can uncover causes and suggest policy modifications.

International organizations furnish cities with policy guidance and facilitate information networks that disseminate models of successful policy implementation. Examples include the OECD’s Green Cities Programme, which measures green economic growth in cities; the UN Environment Programme’s Climate Neutral Network, which convenes local and national governments for discussions on climate change; and the EU’s Urban Agenda, which develops cities’ capabilities for addressing climate impacts. 

International institutions also provide fora for cities to advance climate initiatives. Independent of national governments, such organisations can push cities to act unilaterally against climate change. For example, the city of Haifa joined the Paris Climate Accord in response to Israel’s slow implementation of that agreement. Working closely with the mayor of Paris, Haifa’s mayor declared “cities have the power to lead change, without waiting for it to come from the central government.”

Looking ahead

Cities will be major players in climate action because of their ability to rapidly execute policy, craft effective public outreach, and employ data. To further advance their role in climate mitigation, they must also articulate clear objectives, account for local circumstances, and identify potential challenges.

To improve climate action, cities will seek to broaden their network of partners at the local, national and international levels, looking for data-based feedback from all governance levels as a guide.

By leveraging their place in the governance ecosystem to maximise policy options, cities could play an outsized role in achieving global sustainability objectives and turning the climate challenge into a growth opportunity. Understanding their limitations, however, will dramatically enhance those prospects. 

Einat Elazari

With over a decade of cross-sector experience as an analyst, Einat possesses a holistic understanding of Foreign Affairs alongside Knowledge and Data Analytics. She both lived and worked in the Middle East, Europe and the US, and among other roles, she has been a Middle East Adviser at the UN and a Business Analyst in a Technology Startup. Einat holds a Master’s degree in “European Studies” and wrote her Thesis on Conflict Resolution.

Why High-Efficiency Cooling Is A Climate Priority

Why High-Efficiency Cooling Is A Climate Priority

Originally published on, this article by John Matson is a hot topic in the MENA region where all concerned understood some time back why High-Efficiency Cooling is a Climate Priority. 

In addition, in extreme conditions, such as those in the Gulf area, cooling is as necessary as lighting power or potable water for each and everyone; life, contrary to earlier times, cannot be sustained without it.  

Lately, District Cooling or air conditioning communal systems have become critically vital to all facilities.  The repercussions are sadly multiple and varied because of the rapid increase in urban developments throughout the region.

The picture above is for illustration and is of Utilities News.

Why High-Efficiency Cooling Is A Climate Priority

The world leaders of the Group of Seven, better known as G7, released a long communique following their recent meeting in Cornwall, detailing their plans to address the COVID-19 pandemic and “build back better.” In a departure from the previous G7 meeting in 2019, which ended with a briefer list of agreements, this year’s G7 summit yielded more alignment, particularly in the areas of climate change and the energy transition.

Although the final list did not include all the measures needed to keep global temperature rise to 1.5°C, the environmental and climate agreements did include some overlooked and significant measures to prioritize efficiency. These include doubling the efficiency of cooling systems sold worldwide by 2030.

The Cold Crunch

Developing much more efficient cooling technologies will be critical to keeping 1.5°C within reach. Appliances for space cooling already account for about 10 percent of global electricity use, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). And without efficiency improvements, the energy consumed for cooling could more than triple by 2050. Inefficient cooling systems also contribute to large peaks in electricity demand, which can overwhelm electric grids during hot spells.

The challenge of increasing the average efficiency of cooling systems is at least twofold, driven by both technological and policy changes. But the recent Global Cooling Prize has demonstrated that superefficient ACs are technologically feasible, and policy changes can now catalyze the commercialization and adoption of more efficient units.

Between now and 2050, an estimated 3.3 billion room air-conditioning units will be installed globally as heat waves become more common, populations grow, and urbanization increases. As of 2016, the IEA estimated, more than half of all air conditioners in service were in China and the United States. But over the coming decades, air conditioning use is expected to increase rapidly countries such as India and Indonesia, where residential AC is relatively rare today.

Cooling is not just a matter of comfort and convenience. More than a billion people today are at high risk to their health and safety due to lack of access to cooling, according to a report from Sustainable Energy for All. And those risks will increase as climate change drives greater temperature extremes.

Building Better ACs

RMI launched the Global Cooling Prize in 2018 with Mission Innovation and the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India. The $1 million Prize set out an ambitious challenge for innovators to develop affordable cooling solutions with at least 80 percent lower climate impacts than a baseline unit.

In April 2021, the Prize was awarded to two teams — both representing large industry players — that successfully developed and tested prototype units that met the Prize criteria. Both winning teams met the threshold of 80 percent lower climate impact by reducing electricity demands and using refrigerants with lower global warming potential (GWP) than traditional refrigerant gases.

The Global Cooling Prize team estimated that, if the winning technologies could be scaled, they would mitigate more than 0.5°C of warming by the end of the century.

Accelerating Progress

The Global Cooling Prize proved that superefficient ACs running on low-GWP refrigerants are technologically feasible today. But policy changes would help accelerate the commercialization and adoption of efficient cooling units. As noted in a previous blog post, policymakers have two main levers to drive AC efficiency advancements: improving performance-rating systems for cooling products and creating testing standards that are technology-agnostic.

First, performance standards should recognize what is already possible and encourage manufacturers to continually push for more efficient products that consume less energy and cost less to operate. Today’s performance standards tend to focus on minimum acceptable efficiency levels. These ratings systems gradually raise the floor of efficiency to improve the performance of the laggards but do little to recognize or encourage the adoption of the best performers, which often surpass the highest defined efficiency level altogether. Japan, in contrast, has done just the opposite — identifying the best-performing products and setting the efficiency baseline based on those performance levels.

Second, the winners and finalists in the Global Cooling Prize showed that a variety of technologies can be incorporated into efficient cooling solutions. Some of the finalist prototypes incorporated solar photovoltaics, evaporative cooling, enhanced dehumidification capabilities, and other approaches. However, testing standards that assess an air conditioner’s capacity and efficiency are generally not designed with this variety of solutions in mind. Technology-agnostic testing standards would allow manufacturers to innovate more freely and combine multiple technologies to provide efficient and affordable cooling.

Looking Ahead

With the G7 summit concluded and the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) coming up in the fall, we look forward to additional conversations and commitments that advance the goal of sustainable cooling. Specifically, a “Race to Zero” Breakthrough challenge aims to enlist AC manufacturers representing 20 percent of the market by COP26. The goal of the challenge is for those manufacturers to bring AC units to market by 2025 that have 80 percent lower climate impact.

If manufacturers and policymakers can take these superefficient ACs from prototype to production, they can significantly limit the climate impact of cooling as billions of new air conditioners hit the market over the coming decades. For a rapidly warming world, this is a matter of survival.

A greener construction sector?

A greener construction sector?

 Neeraj Akhoury, CEO of LafargeHolcim, questions India could opt for a greener construction sector? Is it an idea whose time has come or not. Let us find out.

The reason is as industries worldwide increasingly turn towards environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies to abide by all Sustainable Development Goals and support their recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, the focus on green construction is more and more apparent.

In the Middle East Gulf area, where Indian construction workers dominate all human construction resources, the author’s thoughts would not fall into deaf ears.

A greener construction sector? An idea whose time has come

By 2030, more than 250 million people will be added to India’s urban population that will require 700-900 million square meters of new residential and commercial space. In greening the construction sector lies immense opportunities and gains . . .

Image: Shutterstock

For most people, the construction sector is not what first comes to mind when we talk about creating an environmentally sustainable future. It is either the energy or utility sector or other core industries such as steel, coal, fertiliser, and others. Yet, globally, the construction sector is estimated to contribute around 40 percent of the global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

If we scratch the surface, the reason starts to get more obvious. The construction sector, whether it is urban housing or infrastructure, is an end-user industry that consumes a lot of the materials listed earlier like steel, energy (including temperature control) and cement.

The scale of the challenge

The construction sector is a fairly large umbrella that goes beyond housing and commercial buildings to include the infrastructure sector that will see huge public spending in the coming years. The latest union budget saw gross budgetary allocation towards capital expenditure increase to Rs 5.54 lakh crore or around 34 percent more than what was allocated in 2020-21, thus giving a big push to the investment in road and railway projects. A further Rs 55,000 crore of public spending is also expected to go towards government housing projects.

A 2010 estimate by McKinsey Global Institute had suggested that by 2030, more than 250 million people will be added to India’s urban population that will require 700-900 million square meters of new residential and commercial space.

The bottom line is that the massive spending in building a national infrastructure fit for a future-ready India along with large scale urbanisation is going to add more pressure to the construction sector to ensure the environmental concerns are adequately addressed.

The redeeming factor is that every major sector such as steel, energy and construction have understood their respective roles in creating a greener future. Achieving medium to long term environmental objectives including global commitments—like the Paris Accord of 2015—will mean every sector and their consumers will have to pull their weight. We are already seeing this in energy and steel where renewable alternatives and other ideas like circular economy are becoming increasingly mainstream.

Even traditional sectors like automobile are paying more attention to creating a culture of green mobility with electric vehicles. In each of these sectors, the shift towards more sustainable and responsible behaviours is emerging because of the coordinated efforts of both producers and consumers.

A promising green future

The scope for creating a more sustainable construction sector is quite immense and the use of environment-friendly building materials is an important part of it. Every aspect of a building—from the kind of materials used to the construction process itself—offers immense scope to make it more sustainable. For example, today steel and cement manufacturers have embraced the idea of a circular economy in a big way and are offering a wide portfolio of building materials that leave behind far less carbon footprint.

It is for the construction industry to work closely with these manufacturers to ensure that the final product is environment-friendly. The idea of a circular economy within the construction sector is also catching up in a big way through increased use of recycled building material, a sustainable process that allows us to build more with less input including water, energy, and so on.

A science-driven approach to creating more sustainable building materials is also fast catching in India. It is pushing manufacturers to work closely with the academia through exclusive and outcome-driven partnerships to find solutions.

The consumer side of this story is also equally fascinating. Today’s consumers, in both residential and commercial spaces, are playing an active and vital role in ensuring that their contribution to the carbon footprint is minimal.

From energy efficiency mechanisms backed by renewable energy sources to using greener materials and construction processes, new methods have become USPs for builders because they are now addressing a more enlightened set of consumers. In many ways, this is the vital link that completes the whole cycle of creating a more sustainable construction sector in India.

The idea of creating a greener construction sector in India is still in its infancy but the future certainly looks promising or as the 19th-century French writer Victor Hugo said, ‘it’s an idea whose time has come’.

The writer is a CEO of LafargeHolcim India and Managing Director & CEO of Ambuja Cements Ltd

A Race to Protect the Environment or Control Natural Resources?

A Race to Protect the Environment or Control Natural Resources?

Najib Saab writes in ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English how in his opinion, climate change should be faced up, most appropriately in the MENA region. So is it A Race to Protect the Environment or Control Natural Resources?

For the last 100 years, the region that supplied the world with liquid and gaseous fossil fuels should take a stand that the energy transition to cleaner sources is underway and that fossil fuels would not have acceptability forever. And that the already ongoing shift towards the clean energy ecosystem the world over will only increase to the point where there will not be a need for any action towards lessening any global warming anymore.

The picture above is for illustration and is of The Century Foundation.

A Race to Protect the Environment or Control Natural Resources?

20 June, 2021

When US climate envoy John Kerry called to transform the science of climate change into policies and laws, he only got it half right, because setting public policies is not a simple matter. It rather is a complex issue that requires compromises to balance economic, social and environmental aspects. Even when scientific facts indicate the need to immediately stop carbon emissions in order to confront the impacts of climate change, fast full implementation may not be feasible. Any abrupt change is likely to affect the economy and disrupt human life, instigating poverty, hunger and death no less than the dangers of climate change itself. What is required is to provide appropriate conditions and find viable alternatives. Those do exist in most cases, but achieving them requires serious political will and adequate funding.

The major interrelationship between environmental and climate decisions on one hand, and social and economic conditions on the other, was evident in recent days, both at the Group of Seven (G7) summit and the Swiss popular referendum. While the seven world leaders, hosted by Britain, tried to bridge a fine line between climate commitments and the economy, Swiss voters rejected a government proposal for a radical cut in carbon emissions, arguing that it will affect the economy. The complications from the coronavirus pandemic were the main factor in both cases.

Fifty-one percent of Swiss voters rejected a government proposal to introduce an additional tax on fuel and airline tickets, in order to reduce consumption and enhance efficiency, to achieve the goal of reducing carbon emissions in half by 2030, compared to 1990. While the proposal was supported by 49 percent, it was rejected by a small margin by a group that feared its effects on the economy, especially during the coronavirus recovery period.

It is noteworthy that Swiss voters also rejected, by a large majority, in another referendum, a government proposal to ban the use of synthetic pesticides, and to limit aid and support to farmers who stop using chemicals. The farmers believed that these measures would compromise their competitiveness and eventually lead to bankruptcy, in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence that some pesticides and fertilizers pollute the water and harm plant, animal and human life. Now, the Swiss government has no choice but to come up with alternative solutions that preserve the environment, and protect the economy and the people at the same time.

In conjunction with the announcement of the results of the Swiss referendum, the G7 final statement included an item on environment and climate, under which the leaders committed themselves to launching a green revolution that creates jobs, halving carbon emissions by 2030 and reaching zero before 2050, as well as conserving and protecting at least 30 percent of land and oceans by 2030. The summit also renewed the commitment to keep the increase in the average global temperature below 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is the most ambitious target set by the Paris Climate Summit. The G7 also pledged to stop all coal-fired power plants in their countries, unless they relied on techniques to safely capture carbon, rather than release it into the atmosphere. It also promised, in return, to help developing countries get rid of polluting coal plants and adopt other clean technologies for energy production, in parallel with stopping all funding for new polluting plants. But effects of this measure will be limited, as long as China continues to build hundreds of coal plants in developing countries, requiring intense international cooperation to reach common grounds.

However, all these pledges fell short of what environmental activists and many experts and the scientific community expected, especially in the field of finance. While the leaders renewed their pledge to contribute annually until 2025 to a $100 million climate fund, from the public and private sectors, to help poor countries reduce carbon emissions, they did not address the gap in these commitments, since the announcement was made back in 2009. But the United States, Germany and Britain have tried to make up for this collective failure, by promising hundreds of millions of bilateral aid to support the communities most affected by climate change. On another hand, Lord Nicholas Stern, a British economist who is a world authority on the implications of climate change, called for a doubling of government support to fund climate action in developing countries. He also emphasized the economic feasibility of investing a large part of the thousands of billions of dollars earmarked for economic recovery from the pandemic, in projects that promote the transition to a green economy.

Economic revival was the main item in the G7 summit, albeit under environmental and social headlines. As a collective challenge to China’s Silk Road projects, the summit established a Global Infrastructure Fund, to support the transportation network in poor countries and help their transition to green growth, mainly comprising renewable energy and clean technology.

Can the Western-Chinese rivalry be utilized as a race in the interest of the environment, climate and sustainable development, or would it lead to a new cold war, of sorts, to control natural resources? Should this happen, the first victims will be poor people, which both blocks claim to serve.

A Race to Protect the Environment or Control Natural Resources?
Najib Saab
Najib Saab is Secretary General of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development- AFED and Editor-in-Chief of Environment & Development magazine
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