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Scottish climate policy framework 'in jeopardy', CCC warns

Scottish climate policy framework 'in jeopardy', CCC warns

CCC's annual progress report on the Scottish Parliament's climate efforts commends the country for its ambitious targets, but warns strategy for delivering net zero emissions remains unclear

Scotland is at acute risk of failing to meet its ambitious emissions reductions targets, a new report from the Climate Change Committee (CCC) has warned.

The CCC's annual progress report on Scottish emissions policy, published yesterday, concluded the country's climate strategy lacks clarity and detail. As such, it urges the Scottish Parliament to quickly take action to set out how the country's ambitious climate goals can be met.

"The credibility of the Scottish climate framework is in jeopardy," a statement following the publication of the report reads.

Scotland has opted for a decarbonisation trajectory that is more ambitious than the rest of the UK, having set targets to deliver net zero emissions by 2045, rather than 2050, and pledged to achieve a 75 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, against 1990 levels.

The CCC said in a statement that "it has not been possible to determine how promised policies will deliver these laudable ambitions, nor how funding will be allocated to their delivery".

It has taken Scotland 30 years to halve its emissions, according to the report, with the country now needing to halve its emissions again in the next 10 years to meet the 2030 target.

The report commends Scotland for its ambitious targets, which it acknowledges are more ambitious than the rest of the UK, but criticises the country's Climate Change Plan for its lack of specificity. Action is needed to confirm how Scotland can deliver on its low carbon transport and heating ambitions, while there is also an "urgent need" to define low-carbon agriculture policy, the CCC said.

"Strategies alone won't reduce emissions," said Lord Deben, chairman of the CCC. "Major changes are needed across the Scottish economy, requiring lasting, systemic action in most sectors. Clarity and transparency on policy, supported with detail on how these policies will be delivered has been lacking. My Committee cannot assess future progress without this vital assurance."

The report offers more than 70 recommendations for how the Scottish government could strengthen its climate policies, noting that "Scotland has the means and the methods" to meet its goals. Specific areas for improvement include restoring peatland at a higher rate, taking action to reduce meat and dairy consumption, and explicitly setting ambitions to limit aviation demand growth.

The CCC also recommends that Scotland make contingency plans in the event its reliance on carbon removals fails to be delivered at the timescale required to help deliver on its 2030 targets.

The CCC recognises that Scotland's Programme for Government, which outlines the actions the government plans to take over the next year to accelerate its decarbonisation efforts, "sends a strong signal that the Net Zero transition is being integrated into all areas of policy" and commends Ministers for publishing a number of climate policies and strategies ahead of the rest of the UK.

Michael Matheson, the Scottish cabinet secretary for net zero, energy and transport, welcomed the CCC report and said he "agreed entirely" with the report's main findings.

"I also agree entirely with the Committee's key finding that the focus now, both for us in Scotland and for countries around the world, must be on the delivery of the policies to drive transformational emissions reductions across all areas of the economy," he added.

Matheson confirmed that this week's Budget will lay out how the government is going to start delivering the investment needed to ramp up the pursuit of its climate goals and stressed that Hollyrood would continue to work with the UK government "to ensure that the call to action on delivery extends to the reserved policy areas which are essential to support Scotland's climate goals".

Climate Change Agreements: Tax incentive scheme has helped saved 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year

Climate Change Agreements: Tax incentive scheme has helped saved 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 emissions a year

A new report has assessed the emissions reductions achieved by participants in the government’s primary climate tax incentive scheme

Businesses receiving tax benefits for taking climate action collectively slashed 6.6 million tonnes of CO2e between 2019 and 2020, a new report has revealed.

The biennial progress report on the government's Climate Change Agreements Scheme measures the emissions reductions achieved by businesses participating in the scheme, which offers tax breaks for businesses that agree to taking steps to enhance their energy efficiency and deliver associated emissions reductions.

Participating businesses that deploy approved measures and meet targets set under the scheme receive a reduction on the Climate Change Levy that is applied to businesses' electricity, gas, and solid fuel bills.

The new report finds that businesses taking part in the scheme achieved a collective reduction of 6.6 million tonnes of CO2e between 2019 and 2020 across 8,700 facilities, the equivalent of a 13 per cent reduction from the base line year of 2008.

Between 2013 and 2020, participants in the CCA have slashed 23.8 million tonnes of CO2e, according to the government.

"The CCA scheme is encouraging businesses to find ways to reduce their energy usage and consequently their carbon emissions," said Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, which administers the scheme on behalf of the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). "Innovation is key, and the Environment Agency is here to support that through progressive regulation.

"We are already seeing the effects of climate change in the UK, so it is vital that businesses face up to the challenge of adapting to a different climate, thinking about energy use as well as the use of natural resources, such as water, which will become more scarce in the future."

The report also found that progress against 99 per cent of targets was reported on time, with nearly half - 47 per cent - of operators of CCAs meeting or exceeding their targets. Operators that failed to meet their targets were able to use banked emissions savings from previous target periods to cover their under-performance or pay a buy-out fee of £14 for every tonne of CO2e missed.

Commenting on the new report, Business and Energy Minister Lord Callanan, said: "Industry has a critical role to play in helping the UK meet its net zero target by 2050 and today's report shows the immense progress being made to improve energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions across UK sectors.

"With the recent extension made to the Climate Change Agreements (CCA) scheme to support business to decarbonise while remaining competitive, we expect to see results like these continue - as the UK business community demonstrates how both green and growth go hand in hand."

'What we need now is the Lorax': IBM sustainability chief Wayne Balta on mining data for environment and the rise of greenwash

'What we need now is the Lorax': IBM sustainability chief Wayne Balta on mining data for environment and the rise of greenwash

IBM's vice president of corporate environmental affairs sits down with BusinessGreen to discuss the tech giant's sustainability agenda

IBM Corporation's sustainability lead Wayne Balta has been hooked by the corporate environmental agenda since the late 1980s, when as a relatively junior staff member he was tasked with researching the technology giant's very first sustainability strategy. The decade gone by had been marked by a series of high-profile environmental disasters, from the Exxon Valdez oil spill to the Bhopal gas disaster in India, and in the wake of these very public instances of corporate negligence, there was an increasing recognition at big companies of the need to be proactive and transparent in their approach to the environment.

In an interview with BusinessGreen, Balta reflects on how the environmental strategy he helped craft all those years ago launched IBM on a 30-year journey which has seen sustainability become embedded as a core priority across the business. "It set IBM on a path towards integrating this across the company, from finding a management system to addressing it as an enterprise-level issue and, a long-term, strategic imperative," he reflects. "We've treated it that way ever since."

It also marked the beginning of Balta's own sustainability journey. An engineer by trade, he is now IBM's vice president of corporate environmental affairs, responsible for embedding sustainability across the 350,000-person firm's global operations. "This wasn't my intended career," he admits. "But I liked what I researched so very much, because I realised this subject is one that touches on almost every aspect of what any company does - and that's pretty unique."

IBM is a company that has held many guises over the years. Its core business is now artificial intelligence and cloud computing solutions, but the 110-year-old tech giant has a storied history as a manufacturer of everything from punch card machines, rifles, and clocks, through to the floppy disks, and military and personal computers that made it a global powerhouse.

Balta says IBM owes the strength of its sustainability strategy to its heritage as a vertically integrated manufacturer of hardware. "When you've had that closeness to manufacturing, you get it," he says. "Because you see first-hand the implications of making stuff. IBM had that heritage for decades, we learned early on the importance of this stuff."

The firm is currently working towards a string of climate goals, including a plan to deliver net zero emissions across its operations, energy procurement, and electricity at select data centres on by 2030. Unlike some other tech giants, IBM does not account for the overwhelming majority of its supply chain emissions in its own carbon accounting. But Balta rejects the notion the firm should report on a broader range of its indirect emissions in its carbon accounting, such as those generated from travel or supplier emissions. Firms that attempt to put "wild and loose" Scope 3 emissions estimates into hard, specific numbers in their internal carbon budgeting are opening themselves up to the risk of 'greenwash', he argues.

"The emissions that actually reached the atmosphere are direct, Scope 1 emissions," he says. "While it is very helpful to account for Scope 2 and Scope 3, it is not necessarily helpful to communicate them as if they're factual numbers when you know that they're not. The engineer in me may be coming out, but be precise - watch out for hyperbole."

Take for instance, emissions generated by staff travel, he says. "If we don't send an employee on an airplane and that airplane still goes in the sky, you haven't reduced a darned thing," he argues. "The atmosphere still received that emission. You can pat yourself on the back all you want - but you really haven't taken something out of the atmosphere. What you have done constructively is you've reduced your demand for a good or an emissions-intensive service. But we think it's hyperbole to say that we would actually have reduced the emission. We choose not to do that."

As such, the only Scope 3 emissions accounted for in the company's plan are those generated through the powering of data centres that exist only to service IBM, he says. To tackle the rest of its supply chain emissions, IBM has pledged to push all "key suppliers" to set emissions reduction goals for their own Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions by 2022 that are aligned with a 1.5C warming trajectory. "We require them to stand on their own two feet, to build their own capacity to succeed," Balta says. "That's the way the world will really address climate change."

Precision is important, Balta says, because greenwashing is on the rise and risks hurting the corporate world's capacity to drive positive environmental change. "I abhor greenwashing," he says. "Part of my job at IBM is to not let it inside the door. So we focus on transparency and authenticity - we don't do opaque representations of achievement."

In line with this commitment to accuracy, IBM has set a hard limit for the residual emissions budget it is allowing itself to reach its net zero target: 350,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent of less. This figure equates to roughly 30 per cent of its 2019 absolute emission levels. Balta says these emissions will be compensated for with carbon capture solutions that are yet to be invented.

IBM's enormous research division is currently working on leveraging AI to explore the properties of materials that can capture, remove, and sequester carbon from the atmosphere, Balta explains. "In this era, the best way to achieve a technological breakthrough quickly is with the aggressive use of information technology to model and learn everything you can so much more quickly than society could do 50 years ago," he reflects. One work stream, for example, is exploring how hybrid cloud technology can more quickly identify rocks that have the right crevices to safely store carbon emissions.

And does IBM see a responsibility to account for the emissions facilitated by its products, for instance analytics software IBM Watson, which has long been used by mining, oil, and gas operators to improve their returns? Balta counters that IBM "has always been pretty mindful about the clients with whom it works" and says many of the tools it supplies to emissions intensive sectors are driving clean innovation. "If we just take away tools from these people, that's going to hurt all of us in the long run because we all rely upon them to help us get from where  we are today [to where we need to be]," he says. "Even if some of us may look at their businesses today and not really care for them."

"Our view is that addressing climate change is such a large problem, society is going to need the expertise of everybody with technical acumen to help solve it," he adds.

Net zero targets may be having a moment, but Wayne stresses IBM's 2030 emissions reduction goal is just one part of the picture at IBM. The company's 2030 strategy, unveiled earlier this year, also commits the company to a string of other goals, from targets on renewables procurement and supply chain engagement to the continued honing of the company's environmental management system.

Ultimately, he says, it is this environmental management system that is the centrepiece of a company's sustainability agenda, not flashy targets. IBM's environmental management system has been in place since 1997, when it became the first company in the world to earn a single global registration under the ISO 14001 standard.

"When all is said and done, the thing I'm probably most proud of isn't that we reduced something from X to Y," says Balta. "It is that we leave in place the structure, that no matter what changes in IBM management occur, your organisation and culture can sustain this. That's why the management system is so important."

At the end of the day, Balta stresses, IBM's key contribution to the climate crisis is not going to be that it reduced its emissions to zero, but that it has developed the tools that enable businesses and organisations to tackle the problem and deliver a low carbon economy. IBM core's offering is technology and business acumen, he notes, and both of these are needed in spades to tackle the climate crisis. For instance, the company's technology is currently enabling electricity grid operators to balance increasing levels of renewables capacity or helping smallholder farmers optimise their fertiliser and water use through digital farming platforms.

But despite the enormous potential of information technology to solve planetary issues, Balta acknowledges that the application of data and digital technologies for environmental ends remains poorly understood and underutilised. The primary beneficiary of the recent explosion of data, artificial intelligence, and information technologies - dubbed by the World Economic Forum as the 'fourth industrial revolution' - has so far been a "whole lot of consumerism", he reflects, citing targeted online advertising and voice-activated garage doors as examples.

"I'm not sure there has been the same degree of passion about using the data in these technologies for improving the place where we all live, which is planet Earth," he says. "Or for improving our ways of life, beyond helping people who are privileged [enough] to have the problem of: ‘open my garage door' or ‘dim the lights'."

The big structural challenge is that technology companies do not always have a commercial imperative to tap the bounty of environmental data that surrounds them, Balta says. "The tools exist and the technology is more affordable than it's ever been," he reflects. "We're missing the demand."

To illustrate his point, Balta draws from a literary analogy. "When my kids were young, I used to read them The Lorax," he says, referring to Dr Seuss' 1971 children's story book whose titular character attempts to stop the destruction of forests all around him. "The Lorax said: "I'm the Lorax. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues". What we need now is the Lorax. We need to demand that these tools are taken out of the garage and put to use."

Balta says catalysing the growth of 'data for environment' is one of his priorities as a member of the governing consortium of the United Nations Science Policy Business Forum, a programme of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). "It's a difficult nut to crack," he concedes. Governments, the private sector, and financial players all have a role in growing the market by creating the conditions that unleash a much-needed boom in digital solutions that protect environment, he says.

Overall, Balta admits to being optimistic the climate crisis will be averted, noting that more governments and businesses were now committed to the cause than ever before, while the progress towards the crucial technological breakthroughs needed to tackle global emissions and drive a low carbon economy has gathered pace.

"30 to 50 years is a very small spot on the graph of world history," he says. "So, I'd like to think that in another x years, our children will look back and say: 'You know what, we really turned this around and got control of it'. It won't be perfect, It will be messy. There there will be disagreements about what to do and how quickly to do it. But if we all act on facts and authenticity, and with candour, we'll all be better off."

Survey: Public wants to see greater investment in technological carbon removal solutions

Survey: Public wants to see greater investment in technological carbon removal solutions

Findings from BeZero Carbon reveal that nearly nine in 10 people would welcome greater business and government support for nascent carbon removal sector

Polling has suggested there is strong public support for public and business investments in carbon removal measures, ranging from afforestation to technological solutions such as direct air capture (DAC).

A survey of more than 1,500 people commissioned by climate services and analysis firm BeZero Carbon has found that 86 per cent of people want the government to invest in the development of carbon removal capacity. Support for business investments in carbon removal was found to be even higher, at 87 per cent, with nearly half of respondents arguing it was necessary even if it impacted businesses' revenues.

The poll also reveals the credibility of carbon offsetting by companies and governments remains highly contentious among the public, with only one in 10 people surveyed reporting they believed it to be "very effective".

Somewhat conversely, however, the poll reveals that companies that engage in offsetting are likely to receive a positive reaction from the public, with two thirds of respondents having a 'net positive reaction' when asked about their feelings towards a firm that engaged in the practice, according to the survey.

The findings also reveal there is a general lack of awareness around carbon offsetting, with just 45 per cent of respondents knowing what the term means. Understanding of the term was greater among older populations, with less than a third of under 35s reporting that they know what carbon offsetting is, whereas over half of over 55s said they did.

The results have been included in a report, published this week, which urges government and businesses to accelerate investments in technological carbon removals and step up efforts to build public trust in the carbon removals market.

"We are at a critical point," said the report author Ted Christie-Miller, head of carbon removals at BeZero Carbon. "Alongside efforts to reduce carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy, offsetting and carbon removals are a crucial part of the UK's net zero toolkit, but they are poorly understood and under-invested in. Government and businesses must act boldly and at a pace to build trust and legitimacy in the voluntary carbon market if it is to succeed as a solution to tackling climate change."

The UK government has pledged £100m to support direct air capture and other greenhouse gas removal technologies. But BeZero Carbon said the level of support remained relatively low, highlighting how it was dwarfed by the £3.5bn recently earmarked for the technology in the US Infrastructure Bill.

The findings come more than a year after participants in Citizens Assembly UK said they were sceptical of technical solutions to remove carbon from the air, with the consensus being that nature-based solutions such as restoring forests, peatlands and other natural habitats were preferrable.

However, various reports have warned that direct air capture and carbon capture and storage technologies could prove critical to keeping global temperature rises at relatively safe levels. As such, calls have been growing for public and private funding to be unlocked to accelerate the growth of a nascent market that has chalked off a number of major technical milestones in recent months, most notably with the opening of the world's first commercial direct air capture facility in Iceland. 

BeZero Carbon's report is published a day after the government launched the second phase of its funding competition for direct air capture and other greenhouse gas removals technologies.

Up to £64m in funding is up for grabs in the second phase of scheme, with biochar, DAC, and bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) projects all eligible, the government said. Projects that remove of CO2 from seawater using chemical or electrochemical means and those that permanently sequester carbon by applying minerals to soil are also within the scope of the competition, as are technologies which target other greenhouse gases, such as methane, nitrous oxide. and F-gases.

The government opened the next phase of the carbon capture funding programme as it released the list of 24 projects supported in the first phase of the scheme. Among the range of technologies that have been funded is the University of Exeter-led SeaCURE scheme to remove CO2 from seawater; a scheme to install DAC at the Sizewell C nuclear plant; a plan led by SRUC to capture methane from housed cattle; and a scheme to mineralise carbon by reacting rain water with basalt rock.

Only Phase 1 applicants can be considered for further funding in Phase 2, the government said.

Strong Roots: McCain acquires plant-based stake in frozen food company

Strong Roots: McCain acquires plant-based stake in frozen food company

Frozen food giant has invested $55m to secure a minority stake in plant-based foods specialist Strong Roots

The global plant-based foods market has received a further vote of confidence, after McCain Foods today announced it has shelled out $55m to acquire a minority stake in plant-based frozen food specialist Strong Roots.

McCain said the investment would be accompanied by a strategic partnership, which will see Strong Roots expand its range of cauliflower hash browns, mixed root vegetable fries, bites and burgers within existing markets in the UK, Ireland, and the US and in new markets around the world. The investment is also set to see Strong Roots expand into the foodservice market through McCain Foods' out-of-home network.

Strong Roots will continue to operate in an independent capacity, according to the companies.

"As food producers, our role is to be better, food can be better, and our duty is to lead the betterment of ingredients, sourcing, packaging, process and taste, at the same time as working with our partners to achieve this," said Samuel Dennigan, founder and CEO of Strong Roots.

"Working in partnership with McCain Foods means that we are able to grow our brand and the values it stands for, while providing us at Strong Roots with the resources and capabilities we need to see change through globally and impactfully."

McCain Foods will also benefit from the partnership by further expanding its product portfolio into the fast expanding plant-based natural foods market, the company said.

Max Koeune, president and CEO of McCain Foods, said: "We're so excited to be partnering with Strong Roots, a company that not only aligns with our innovative approach to creating food, but also helps us grow our portfolio of healthier food that meets changing consumer demands in a sustainable way. We're looking forward to working with Samuel and the Strong Roots team to help bring a healthy range into more homes across the world."

Today's announcement follows a series of investments in plant-based foods from McCain Foods in recent years, including partnerships with The Simple Root, a plant-based food producer offering dairy alternative products, and SIMULATE, a plant-based chicken nugget alternative.

On the edge of greenness: Can we make green hydrogen commercially viable?

On the edge of greenness: Can we make green hydrogen commercially viable?

Pall Corporation's Maria Anez-Lingerfelt sets out some of the challenges and benefits of building up a supply chain for widespread green hydrogen production

With most of the world's energy demand being supplied by fossil fuels, we are facing the harsh reality of climate change. The impact of global warming is being felt across the planet with all corners of the world experiencing weather anomalies, from scorching temperatures and wildfires to flash floods and hurricanes.

The renewable energy industry is seen as one of the beacons of hope in this otherwise grim landscape, and within renewables, one of the areas that holds the most potential is hydrogen power. Hydrogen is being heralded as the clean fuel of the future and is set to play a key role in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

Hydrogen is inherently a green fuel. It produces no toxic emissions, the only by-product of its combustion being water vapour. However, most of the hydrogen produced today - so-called ‘grey hydrogen' - is sourced from the coal or natural gas industry, from steam reforming natural gas. The process requires vast amounts of energy while emitting significant amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  

‘Blue hydrogen', where the use of carbon capture technologies traps CO2 before it escapes into the atmosphere, provides a solution to the immediate emissions issue. However, the captured CO2 then needs to be stored, which comes with its own challenges when deploying at scale.

The panacea that the industry is trying to reach is the production of ‘green hydrogen' - hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water and powered by renewable energy sources, like wind or solar. At a small-scale green hydrogen production has been proven technically possible but reaching commercial viability has thus far remained a long way out of reach - partly due to technological constraints, partly due to regulation and partly due to cost. All three need to be tackled if we're going to unlock the potential of this transformational energy source.  

The scale of the challenge

The methods for producing green hydrogen are complex. The electrolysis process involves the dissociation of the water molecule in an electric field. Hydrogen is then produced at the cathode and oxygen at the anode with an electrolyte present in between the electrodes.

There are three types of electrolysers used to achieve this. The alkaline electrolyser (AEL) uses liquid potassium hydroxide as the electrolyte and is the most widely used in industrial applications, but comes with some drawbacks, including lower purity levels and lower energy efficiency. Polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) uses a solid polymer electrolyte and is increasingly being favoured because it has fewer of these drawbacks, but is still expensive compared to AEL. Finally, solid oxide electrolysers (SOEC) use a solid ion-conducting ceramic electrolyte - a technology that holds great potential but is still in early stages of commercialization.

Regardless of the electrolysis technology used, the hydrogen stream produced needs to be further processed to remove solid, liquid, and gaseous contaminants. It is in this process that the real technical challenge lies because the regulations around gas purity specifications are extremely stringent. You would typically see concentrations between 2,000-6,000 ppm of oxygen and over 2,000 ppm of water in hydrogen using commercial alkaline electrolysis. The maximum concentration allowed for fuel cell vehicles is five ppm of each.

In pursuit of purity

This gap between outputs and purity standards is why AEL systems - the most widely used in industrial applications - require further optimisation to produce green hydrogen at a large scale. Several unit operations using filtration, separation and purification technology are needed to achieve the required purity levels.

Once the hydrolysis has taken place, the liquid/gas mixture needs to be cooled, separated, and compressed. However, cooling the gas has major cost implications and can be as high as five per cent of the total system outlay. Gravity separators, mist eliminators pads, filter vane separators and more recently liquid/gas coalescers are used to separate the liquid contaminants. These typically require large housings and must be operated at low velocities to prevent liquid re-entrainment.  

To add to the purification costs, solid contaminants, originating from oxidation in process piping and equipment such as pumps and compressors, must be eliminated. Adsorbent fines, if they are being used, situated in the final drying equipment may also get released, contaminating the gas. To remove the solid contaminants, regenerable and disposable gas filters in different micron ratings are deployed throughout the process.

The final step is the efficient storage of the hydrogen once it is produced. It can be compressed and stored in tanks, pumped into salt caverns, or converted into liquid ammonia, using Haber-Bosch Synthesis. Optimisation of all these processes is required to industrialise the production of green hydrogen at a scale where it becomes a viable replacement for fossil fuels.

Bridging the gap

Hydrogen, the most abundant substance in the universe, must surely play a role as a clean energy source. But to be truly green, it must be produced using electrolysers powered by a renewable energy source, such as solar or wind.

We still have a long way to go on this front, but there are remarkable innovations underway and new breakthroughs are made possible every day. We are now seeing more and more companies looking to partner with Pall Corporation for R&D and strategic support, as well as products - working together to implement new innovations and find solutions to these complex challenges.

Government regulation also plays an important role. The Green Deal in Europe and a range of tax incentives in the USA are encouraging innovation in this space and allowing companies to invest and move forward. If renewable energy companies and their supply chain seize this opportunity and continue to work together to develop solutions for this rapidly evolving market, we will be able to convert these ideas and innovations into reality.

Private and public stakeholders across the green hydrogen value chain owe it to future generations to make this work. We can build a cleaner, safer, and more sustainable world. The planet simply cannot wait any longer.

Maria Anez-Lingerfelt PhD is a Senior Scientist in Pall's Application Development Team

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