IEA climate scenarios make mockery of Australia's defence of Adani coal | RenewEconomy

IEA climate scenarios make mockery of Australia’s defence of Adani coal

International Energy Agency says, at current rate, unabated coal generation would have to stop within 14 years, undermining claims Adani coal mine is a climate win. IEA also says low emissions target must be set at a fraction of that contemplated by Canberra.

Alpha Males and the Lump of Coal.

The International Energy Agency has made a mockery of Australia’s justification for vast new coal provinces, saying that coal-fired generation for electricity will have to be phased out by 2030 if used at current rates without abatement.

In its annual Energy Technology Perspectives report, released overnight, the highly conservative IEA, often accused of playing down renewables, says wind and solar will account for the majority of electricity generation and the overwhelming share of emissions reductions if the Paris climate targets are to be met.

The technologies report is an annual assessment by the IEA of what the world needs to do to cap average global warming to 2°C. For the first time in 2017, it canvasses what needs to be done if all available technologies are deployed to their limit to meet a temperature cap of 1.75°C – the mid-point of the Paris target range.

The overriding conclusion is that coal has no future without carbon capture and storage, and only a limited one with it. Under the 2DS scenario, all unabated coal must be phased out by 2045.

Under the more ambitious B2DS scenario, the 1.75°C target, coal generation must be gone by 2040. In this scenario, it says there are only 14 years left of generation of unabated coal at current levels.


This goes completely against agruments in defence of the Adani coal province in north Queensland by the likes of Resources minister Matt Canavan, and underlines that the federal government’s coal mining plans do not fit in with any credible scenario for meeting the Paris climate targets.

The Coalition government, and Canavan in particular, argues there will be huge demand for coal generation in the Asia region, and that this is not contravened by the country’s Paris climate goals.

But the IEA makes clear that if the climate targets are to be reached, then between 1,500GW and 1,750GW of coal-fired generation will have to be retired early, and any new asset built now risks being stranded.

“With a reduced carbon budget, the cumulative generation from coal continuously declines to a level of 135 petawatt hours (PWh) in the B2DS, which corresponds to just 14 years of coal-fired generation if kept at 2014 levels,” it says. “This explains the need to retire unabated coal-fired power plants even earlier.”

iea coal withdrawal

The IEA report also points to the difficulties facing the board of the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility as they consider any $900 million loan to Adani’s proposed rail facility and the possibility that it may damage Australia’s international reputation, particularly in regard to climate targets and environmental issues.

“The mine obviously is source of huge amounts of carbon and appears inconsistent with a 2DS climate outcome as the government signed up to in Paris,” says Mark Fulton, senior research advisor to Carbon Tracker.

The IEA report also has deep implications for the government’s response to the Finkel Review – due to be delivered on Friday – and the potential adoption of a “low emissions” target.

There has been leaks to the media in the past week that suggest that the target should be around 700kG/CO2e per megawatt-hour, enough possibly to accommodate ultra super critical coal-fired power stations, such as the one many in the Coalition are pushing for in north Queensland.

But the IEA says that if climate targets are to be taken seriously, the limit for new power generation needs to be set at just 100kg/Co2 by 2025, allowing only wind, solar, nuclear in the countries that have it, and gas combined with CCS.

“The average carbon intensity of new power capacity declined 27 per cent since 2005, but needs be at around 100 grams of CO2 per kilowatt-hour (gCO2/kWh) in 2025, requiring further steep reduction,” the IEA says.

“The global fleet average emissions intensity of power generation in 2DS needs to be reduced from the current level of 524 gCO2/kWh to close to zero grams of CO2/kWh in 2060.”

It will be interesting to see what Dr Finkel, Australia’s chief scientist, recommends in his report. The early leaks of the LET idea, and the suggestions that it could be as high as 700g/CO2/kWh, suggest a political compromise has already been identified.

Finkel told a Senate estimates committee that his review would take into account the climate goals in his report, and he also said the review would “not necessarily” indicate a preferred carbon intensity. The 700kG figure could have come from the Coalition.

The Greens have argued that the LET should be much lower than that, noting that even former prime minister John Howard was contemplating a 200kgCO2/MWh benchmark when he played with the idea.
The IEA puts its hopes of reaching the climate target in renewable energy technology, particularly wind and solar, which will make up more than half of all generation. It says renewables overall will account for 74 per cent of supply by 2060 under the 2DS scearnio.

“The analysis suggests that limiting global average temperature increases to 1.75°C from pre-industrial levels by 2100, the midpoint of the Paris Agreement’s ambition range, is technically feasible.

“However, the gap between this pathway and current efforts is immense and unlikely to be bridged without an unprecedented acceleration of action on a global level.”

These include a focus on energy efficiency, in energy, transport and buildings.

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  1. Chris Ford 3 years ago

    I’m an optimist. I think it’s actually reasonably likely that the 1.75C point will be achieved, solely because of the financial track that renewables are following. All that the Coalition’s fossil fuel fetish will achieve is to briefly keep fossil fuel cash flowing, raise local electricity prices and put Australia way behind in developing energy markets. If it continues in the short term (which I doubt) the Adani mine will be a stranded asset, albeit one that shat on the hopes of thousands of Queenslanders and potentially leaves a big blight on the landscape.

    • technerdx6000 3 years ago

      That’s exactly what will happen, the LNP will waste billions of taxpayer $$$ on keeping fossil fuels afloat. My main concern here in QLD is the support behind a new coal power station which is certain to become a stranded asset if built.

      • Peter Lyons 3 years ago

        What needs to happen in Queensland is a massive defection of Labor party members to the Greens. That would really sting Labor where it hurts and make Annastacia Palaszczuk take notice. Persuading rusted-on Queensland Labor voters to go Green might be a hard sell, but so be it…

        • MaxG 3 years ago

          Wouldn’t this be nice 🙂

        • Joe 3 years ago

          Although I live in Sydney the defection from Labor to The Greens has started…with me. I have been a lifelong Labor supporter but no more. Labor has voted with the Libs in The Senate to amend Native Title Law Rights so that a group of First Australians who object to Adani holding up the development are now null an void….Adani gets another free kick. Well I’m not having any of that, I’ve given Labor the boot…gone!

    • Shane White 3 years ago

      You certainly are an optimist Chris!

      Warming since 1750 has been +1.15C but earth remains in energy imbalance because of the greenhouse gasses we’ve emitted. As we emit them, earth takes time to respond. It does so by warming until the same amount of radiation leaving earth to space at night equals that being received from the sun during the day. That energy imbalance, stored in the oceans and measured by the Argo float array, is currently about +0.5C. That brings the total committed warming to +1.65C.
      (ref Hansen,

      But it gets worse.

      Warming is countered by the cooling aerosols we’ve emitted, mostly sulphur aerosols from burning coal. The total contribution of aerosols currently cools our climate also by about 0.5C, so as coal is phased out that cooling will reduce and quickly. As Mann points out, taking into account the removal of aerosols means 2C eventually equates to 405ppm CO2, and we’re at 409ppm now; see

      Obviously the IEA are making some convenient optimistic assumptions when they state:
      “Under the more ambitious B2DS scenario, the 1.75°C target, coal generation must be gone by 2040. In this scenario, it says there are only 14 years left of generation of unabated coal at current levels.”

      And as for 1.75C, the sea level associated with that level of warming, and consequences thereof will be devastating.

      There is nothing on this topic to be optimistic about. Nothing at all.

  2. coreidae 3 years ago

    CCS is just nonsense – solar, wind, batteries, demand reduction and smart grids, plus nuclear by the looks of things, will be the path to deep decarbonisation.

    • Shane White 3 years ago

      Can you quote any study or did you just make that up?

      • Darren 3 years ago

        Coreidae isnt wrong entirely. Nuclear is dead too though.

        “The company said Monday that it would need to redesign and replace a critical component in its Kemper County, Miss., power plant in order for the plant to achieve “long-term sustained operations.” The related engineering and construction could take 18 to 24 months, it said”

        Its already billions over budget. One set back after another.

      • coreidae 3 years ago

        About CCS being nonsense do you mean? Have a Google for commericalised CCS. Perhaps they mean supercritical black coal? Marginally less CO2e/MWh but still trumped by solar and wind.

        • Shane White 3 years ago

          You stated CCS was nonsense. I argue that various studies highlight our need to now sequester massive amounts of carbon even with radical emission reductions.

          To exclude CCS without proposing some other means of sinking carbon is nonsense. Literally, unless you can demonstrate otherwise? You seem to imply we can return to a safe climate by rolling out solar PV and wind turbines. That’s out there.

          • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

            Mechanically sequestering carbon is such nonsense. It’s futile. For starters there’s no business model. Why pay extra millions for a lot of extra plant, labour etc etc, only to bury the result of that investment in the ground where it serves no further purpose or profit? The significant extra energy required to carry out the capture and sequestration process would make it extra pointless – bordering on humorous.

            There’s only one way to sequester carbon at the required scale and that’s to incentivise South American and South Asian countries to let rain forest regrow in some of the vast areas that have been logged in recent decades.

          • Shane White 3 years ago

            Careful Ren or you’ll end up with a 4C+ climate hell; an all smothering darkness of suffering and violence caused by multi-metre rapid sea level rise, massive bushfires and drought perpetually devouring the landscape destroying food supplies, and widespread species extinction. There’s not enough fear at the moment. Next summer visit your nearest high risk bushfire area on a 40C+ windy day. Sit and enjoy. Or visit your nearest centrefire rifle range and think about what the decline of civilisation might initially be like.

            Our society has become pacified and isn’t capable of even recognising the threat fast approaching, let alone deal with it should it arrive.

            This an emergency and we need to throw everything we can at the problem. Think of the Manhattan project – we need a Manhattan project for the climate.

            Yes we should prioritise sinking carbon by changing land use but the amount to sink is enormous, even if we manage emission reductions beyond historic precedent. If we reduce emissions by -3%/yr starting in 2020, we still need to double (increase by 100%) the carbon sequestered by all earth’s land (that doesn’t take into account our current land use emissions of 3.5 GtCO2/yr – perhaps this would reduce). For reductions of -6%/yr, the amount to be sequestered reduces to an increase of 70%.

            The basic message is that to return to a safe climate (350ppm or average global warming at or near the Holocene max of +0.5C), we need emission reductions without historic precedent at -3%/yr or more, and to sequester an amount of carbon around double that currently sequestered by earth’s land OR oceans (they’re about the same).

            And what are we doing? CO2 changed by over +2.9ppm in 2015 and 2016, highest yet. How is society responding? It’s a sea of indifference.

            I think this justifies pursuing all forms of carbon sequestration. Getting Indonesia or Brazil on board to dramatically change their land use will be just as difficult as engineering CCS solutions.


          • Ron Horgan 3 years ago

            Thanks for the cold hard assessment of the problem.Diagnosis is the necessary first step. This is far worse than I had previously thought, and seriously frightening.
            Our species survival is at stake.
            Business as usual = extinction.
            Survival = A immediately stopping CO2 (5 years or so)
            +B sequestering CO2 for next few centuries .
            How? Do we try or not?
            If we try all options must be in play.

          • Shane White 3 years ago

            Yep, it’s bloody terrifying Ron. So few realise how dire and urgent the situation now is. And look at how these elected politicians are treating the situation – taking us all into hell.

            FWIW here are the calcs for my numbers –
            From Hansen’s paper, Fig 10: -3%/yr and sink 237 PgC needed for a safe climate.
            From the Global Carbon Project: Land sink = 11.5 GtCO2/yr, Ocean sink = 9.7 GtCO2/yr, so both about 10 GtCO2/yr each.
            237 PgC = 237 GtC = 237 GtC * 44/12 = 869 GtCO2
            869/10 = 87 years of ocean or land sink.
            Starting in 2020…

            And where are we currently heading…


          • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

            I don’t dispute the climate science and I don’t dispute the urgency we now need for climate action. However there’s a right way to go about it and a wrong way. If we ignore the economics and the politics and make hasty and unwise decisions (aka costly and unpopular) on carbon abatement or sequestration, well it’s only going to piss people off and they’ll intensify their antipathy or apathy to climate change action. What we need to get everybody onboard is sensible measures that both reduce emissions and reduce costs – because even climate change deniers like cost savings!

            In my opinion Amory Lovins and Tony Seba have the best ideas on decarbonisation. We can vastly improve energy efficiency (reduce energy waste) while saving money in the process, then supply the remainder of what’s needed with ever-lower-cost clean energy technology saving money in the process. This is an opportunity to transform the economy into an efficient energy using, clean energy using, low energy costing economy – as well as a problem we need to solve. Let’s not kill the albatross with harebrained schemes like CCS.

          • Shane White 3 years ago

            Decarbonisation is only part the necessary solution. An immense task of sinking carbon somewhere somehow is the other part, because we left it all so late.

          • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

            CCS is not a carbon sink. A carbon sink would reduce the amount of CO2 that is already up there in the atmosphere. CCS would only partially reduce the additional amount of CO2 that we’d keep adding to the atmosphere in the future. So CCS can’t be called a carbon sink nor a form of decarbonisation.

            The only sensible carbon storage idea I’ve seen is the one called Leave It In The Ground.

          • Shane White 3 years ago

            No doubt leaving FF in the ground is optimal. I was referring to CCS in a fundamental manner – Carbon Capture and Sequestration – capture carbon as an atmospheric gas and shove it somewhere secure. Maybe I should’ve used the term Negative Emissions?
            Of course if you attach CCS to a FF energy generator then yes, it will do nothing to lower existing atmospheric concentration unless designed to.
            Lots of talk about clean energy, very little about the greater task – the need for 50 to 80 years worth of additional carbon sinks of the scale of the globe’s land or ocean. Minor detail…

          • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

            “unless design to”

            A CCS attachment on a FF generator could not possibly capture and store all of the FF generator’s own emissions. Indeed they would probably capture and store just a small percentage of the FF generator’s own emissions.

            Let alone existing CO2 in the atmosphere.

            Again, we’re talking about the ludicrous idea of building large costly machines only to bury the product they manufacture.

            Rain forest regrowth (mainly in South America and South Asia) is our only hope of carbon sinking on the necessary scale and in the necessary time frame.

          • Shane White 3 years ago

            “Only hope”? Easy to say as a comment on the net; somewhat more difficult to do so as an author of a published paper.

            We need Manhattan 2 – now for the climate. Throw everything at it considering we need to sink what the oceans or land absorb for a 50 to 80 year period, while decarbonising and also enduring the consequences of what nature will be throwing at us.

          • Shane White 3 years ago

            Why the technology bias Ren?
            Solar panels, wind turbines, electric cars, batteries and inverters good; CCS and Thorium nuclear bad?
            Nuclear and CCS even worse than coal, oil and gas?

            And CCS need not be a component of a FF generator, it could stand alone as part of an array.

            ANYOLDHOW, the technology is not the problem. The problem is the lack of public support for drastic action, to borrow from Ramanathan:

          • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

            Not a technology bias Shane, just a stock-standard economic bias.

            I’ve got nothing against nuclear power except the prodigiomungus cost of it.

          • Shane White 3 years ago

            Economics is manmade – we can change it.
            In fact, given the damage climate change is and will cause, any sensible person would realise economics is broken.

          • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

            Politics is also manmade – we won’t change the economics unless the politics permits it. The current political numbers are rather dreadful for any prospect of a serious ‘intervention’ to arrest climate change.

            So we need to work within the economic framework we currently have to solve climate change. Cost is the key, and I think we can make deep inroads into the problem (of decarbonisation at least) by making clean energy technologies cheap and energy efficiency technologies cheap and then these will be adopted by all.

          • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

            Shane you are normally so talkative?

          • Joe 3 years ago

            CCS – Instead of the pollution being belched out into the atmosphere the proposal is now to bury the pollution…somehow this makes it ‘clean’. This is insanity. No one knows what the long term damage is of burying pollution. Just Don’t Create The Pollution In The First Place !!!!!!

          • coreidae 3 years ago

            Well we need to capture and sequester CO2, and this is probably best and most cheaply done through a range of already existing methods including reforestation, soil and probably chemical processes. Carbon capture and sequestration from coal fired power plants is another matter. This is an incredibly expensive still-experimental process. Yes it is going to go ahead, but the best approach is to move to technologies such as PV, CST, wind, hydro, and in some countries nuclear, which do not have such emissions in the first place. In addition to that, we will eventually need to address other sectors such as transport and agriculture, particularly land clearance and the livestock industry. Can you imagine the whinging from the right wing when proposals come out to limit meat and dairy production, stop live exports and de-stock pastoral leases?

          • John Saint-Smith 3 years ago

            Grow up and grow trees.

          • Shane White 3 years ago

            Hand on face.
            Can’t you read John? Or do you have something to say about Hansen and Schellnhuber? In which case there’s a Cory who’d love to chat with you.

  3. Richard 3 years ago

    The Adani mine proposal is just about giving the appearance that coal is viable into the future. It also serves the coalition purpose of being anti-lefty and greeny and the Labor purpose of standing up for working class Queenslanders, who also in the main hate greenies.
    Adani needs the mine to be green lighted so they actually have an asset against all their other liablities.
    This mine is just never going to happen.

  4. Chris Fraser 3 years ago

    I think the proportion of Australians that Don’t want the Carmichael mine must be over 99%. We could even go further and suggest Carmichael has 6 supporters – Gautam Adani, Barnaby Joyce, Matt Canavan, Canavan’s dog … and a couple of pre-paid trolls on Twitter.

    • John Saint-Smith 3 years ago

      I think you might be talking to the converted on this site. Venture out into the broad light of day in Queensland and you’ll find a large proportion of the population, in North Queensland in particular, who are yet to wake up to the climate crisis. They still believe that Pauline will save the day and make all the fake news about climate change, pollution, the party-spoiling Greens and their coral reef bleaching hoax go away in a puff of good healthy coal smoke.

      • Chris Fraser 3 years ago

        Somebody should remind the virtuous folk of Queensland how much sun they actually get.

        • Joe 3 years ago

          Melanoma Capital of the world.

      • Rod 3 years ago

        One Nation still polling 20% despite being caught out ripping off candidates and lying to the AEC. Beggars belief.

        • Pete 3 years ago

          Lived in FNQ for four years from ’08 – ’12. Doesn’t beggar belief to me; it’s Deliverance country. Google it if you don’t know what I’m talking about.

          • nakedChimp 3 years ago

            From time to time I can read locals in the local free newspapers (weekly versions) that speak up for environmental issues.. but there are also the other opinions naturally.

          • Joe 3 years ago

            It was a great movie !

          • Ren Stimpy 3 years ago

            Good place for a discount banjo store.

      • Joe 3 years ago

        Pauline some months ago made a ‘scientific visit’ to The Reef. I saw her on my tele in the wettie and a snorkie….did the dive under and came up declaring…Its all good, The Reef is healthy!

    • Joe 3 years ago

      …6 supporters….you forgot Premier Annastascia and Treasurer Curtis. Then we have Judith Sloan, Chris Kenny and crew at The Australian.

  5. MaxG 3 years ago

    Our neo-liberal government is no better than Trump; they even bow to him — what a bunch of schmucks…

  6. Sir Pete o Possums Reek 3 years ago

    I would like to think this mine wont actually happen … but strange nonsense happens when you put the deliberately ignorant in charge of serious capacity.

    I suspect the developers will cherry pick the high quality (low ash) coal and hold QLD politics hostage for say 20(ish) years…

    The profit will all be external (as in financial leverages / equity , secondary corporations operating the Ports and Transport etc ) and the real costs will certainly be externalised.

    Repeat the list essentially but bleed out till dry, the various jurisdictions capacities …

    Return from royalties will be ephemeral and ratchet down as price and demand fall.
    Of course every task on every sub-system will be automated . .. and each financial entity, (there will eventually be thousands) will be remotely “operated” from a small artificial island / tax haven somewhere in the Northern Tropics 🙂
    The green house gases produced cementing dead coral into blocks to keep this haven above water will dwarf the output of burning the tonnes of coal actually produced.

    At some point political cowardice and fuckwittism will be recognised as the pathologies they are. ……

    As an upside I guess eventually we get another site for pumped hydro 🙂

    Ooo I am cross !

    • Tobias J 3 years ago

      It will be stopped. Its not going to happen.

  7. Ken Dyer 3 years ago

    Labor has not yet committed any funds to this project, and royalties, should they eventuate, will only come into play should the mine actually start producing something. Labor is making an ambit political claim to appease those in Northern Queensland.

    Adani having made losses for 5 years straight, are trying to delay writing off the Adani mine as a stranded asset, because it is a major asset on their balance sheet.

    Perhaps Labor would be better off to announce the new battery mega factory planned for Townsville.

    And perhaps one should also take note of things happening in India such as this:

    and this

    The key issue here (apart from the $1.5 billion loss) is the Indian Government refusal to let Adani run their huge Mundra plant with imported coal.

    All of this just makes COALition ministers like Coalface Canavan look stupid, and corrupt.

    • Ron Horgan 3 years ago

      Thanks for the links Ken, Adani seems to be in serious trouble losing a big government subsidy to compensate them for policy changes to reduce imported coal. The Queensland announcement accompanied by no new real progress on the financing of the Galillee basin mine looks like a diversion to keep the Indian wolves at bay

  8. Gary Rowbottom 3 years ago

    I think we all need to tell the government (Qld and Federal) we do not want them doing this. Because of science. Because of mathematics. Because of economics. Because of nature. Good article BTW – good data from good source – thanks Giles.

  9. Shane White 3 years ago

    Too much concentration on Adani’s mine and not enough on Australia’s emissions and emission targets. That’s the problem with the media, only sensation sells.

  10. Shane White 3 years ago

    What was the IEA’s chance of success for 1.75C? 66% as usual?

    Ahh the detail.

    Even the conservative IPCC states that for a 66% chance of 2C, the C budget remaining as of 2011 was 790 GtC, and 515 GtC had been emitted. (Ref WG1, SPM, Pg27, at the bottom).

    We emit 10 GtC/yr, so (790-515)/10 = 27.5 years remained after 2011 for 66% chance of 2C. That leaves 21.5 years of budget remaining excluding removal of aerosols. 1.75C is less, about 18 years by proportion.

    So about 18 years of carbon emissions at current rates for a 66% chance or so of 1.75C. Who here thinks humanity will cease all carbon emissions in less than two decades, or reduces emissions to a level that will enable them to be offset by negative emission technologies, and that we continue to maintain current levels of air pollution to ensure aerosol-cooling?
    Who here thinks 66% is a significant chance?

    • Chris Ford 3 years ago

      I think it’s possible, but as I said before, I’m an optimist, only because renewables cost is still dropping, so economics will drive reductions. Follow the $. We won’t cease carbon emissions in two decades, but there will start to be pretty significant declines soon enough to stretch out the “end” date a long way further than 2035. We certainly can’t be complacent and think the job’s done if a new mine doesn’t go ahead though, when existing emissions are already way too high.

      • Shane White 3 years ago

        What is it that you think is possible Chris? Limiting warming to 1.75C? Can you clarify?

        • Chris Ford 3 years ago

          Possible that total CO2e emissions will slow down enough to be consistent with 1.75C. Though having read your comment about aerosols (as separate to CO2) I’m less optimistic that 1.75C is possible regardless of CO2e reductions.

          • Shane White 3 years ago

            This too Chris –

            and this –

            Then there’s the demise of coral, loss of Arctic sea ice and the multimeter sea level rise over the next 50 to 150 years.

          • Chris Ford 3 years ago

            Thanks, looks interesting (if depressing). Will have a read.

          • Shane White 3 years ago

            Yeh it is depressing but better to know the truth and ultimately deal with it. Just such a pity we’ve left any change so late, and a shame that it seems the more we know the higher CO2 concentration grows (2015 grew by 2.96ppm, most rapid on record, 2016 grew by 2.93ppm).

            Both links are an easy read.

  11. john 3 years ago

    So now we have a new target 1.75c lets be honest we will not meet any targets period.
    For over 40 years information has been given to Governments and the outcome has been this has been used for political purposes as soon as this happened the outcome has been a wall of disinformation to the public.
    In fact a whole medial empire has been built on the delivery of disinformation and has made it into the most profitable outfit in the western world.
    No amount of trying to present facts works until there is a sufficiently educated populous to understand the information.
    When the information comes from deliberately disingenuous sources like the largest media company in the world there is never going to be any change in the ignorance of humans to race head first into delivering a degraded environment for future generations to deal with.
    As to the possibility of this mine proceeding i very much doubt it frankly, because it has no underlying demand at a price point it can meet.

  12. Shane White 3 years ago

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