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Obama, Romney, and Various National Climate Policies Around the Globe

Posted on 12 September 2012 by dana1981

We have often looked at the importance of reducing human greenhouse gas emissions as much and as quickly as possible, based on a prudent risk management approach, most recently with Richard Somerville's discussion on irreversibility and urgency and also examining what our failure to do so would mean for the future global climate.

With the US presidential election just under 2 months away, and the President being the most important figure in determining American climate policy, it's worthwhile to examine what the two main political party's candidates' policies would mean for the climate if they are elected.  Unlike certain other purported climate science blogs, we are not in the business of endorsing political candidates, and our discussion (and the discussion in the ensuing comments) will focus solely on the climate implications of the proposed policy plans.  We will also examine the climate policies from various other countries in order to get a sense of where we're at and where we're heading in terms of global greenhouse gas emissions.

President Obama's Policies

You can read about the incumbent's energy and climate-related policies herePresident Obama's energy page does not get off to a climate-friendly start, with the top of the page prominently featuring his steps to increase American oil production.  Obama's presidency started during an economic recession, when crude oil production was at its lowest level in decades; it has now reached levels higher than at any time during the George W. Bush presidency (Figure 1).

US oil production

Figure 1: US domestic oil production data from the US Energy Information Administration.

However, the increase in US domestic oil production is not terribly important from a climate perspective, because oil prices are set by the global market, and US production is too small to make a noticeable difference in those prices.  The demand side is far more important than the supply side in this respect, and on that issue the Obama Administration has done very well, having implemented the toughest fuel economy standards for passenger vehicles in U.S. history, requiring an average performance equivalent of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

President Obama's energy page also highlights his efforts to transition American passenger transportation to plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles as well as biofuels.  Regarding building energy efficiency,

"Since October 2009, the Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development have jointly completed energy upgrades in more than one million homes across the country....Through the President’s Better Buildings Challenge, we are working to improve the energy efficiency of commercial buildings by 20 percent by 2020."

President Obama has also encouraged renewable energy implementation and a clean energy standard, created programs to encourage alternative energy research and development, and called for an end to tax breaks for the oil and gas industry.  He has also lead by example by signing an executive order on Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy and Economic Performance.  This executive order set sustainability goals for Federal agencies in becoming more energy efficient and reducing reliance on fossil fuels, for example requiring a 30% reduction in vehicle fleet petroleum use by 2020, and a 2030 net-zero-energy building requirement.

Thus from an energy policy standpoint, other than excessively encouraging increased production of fossil fuel energy, President Obama's policies have been quite good with regards to greenhouse gas emissions.  His climate policy has been similar.  The USA did seem to put forth a good effort at the Copenhagen international climate conference, President Obama's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has begun regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and he would have signed a national carbon cap and trade system into law, had it not been blocked in the Senate.

However, President Obama has very rarely mentioned the words 'global warming' or 'climate change' in public.  While his policy on the issue has been quite good, his leadership has not.  That being said, he did take a step in the right direction on the issue during his 2012 nomination acceptance speech, saying:

"...my plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet – because climate change is not a hoax.  More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke.  They’re a threat to our children’s future."

Mitt Romney's Plan

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney recently released his energy plan (also see a short summary here), which aims to achieve "North American energy independence by 2020."  The plan is rather lacking in details, but Romney appears to have followed Fred Singer's advice to focus almost exclusively on fossil fuel production.  Romney's plan focuses primarily on opening up virtually all federal lands to fossil fuel drilling, though as we have noted, domestic oil production is already at its highest levels in over a decade, and domestic natural gas production is at its highest levels ever, mainly due to the shale gas/hydraulic fracturing (fracking) boom (Figure 2).

US natural gas production

Figure 2: US domestic natural gas production data from the US Energy Information Administration.

Romney's policy paper claims:

"President Obama has intentionally sought to shut down oil, gas, and coal production in pursuit of his own alternative energy agenda"

This is clearly untrue based on the data show above.  However, the fact that Romney criticizes attempts to pursue an "alternative energy agenda" highlights his own exclusive focus on fossil fuels.  Romney also proposes to dramatically reduce regulations on fossil fuel drilling - a policy which poses various environmental concerns, though they're not necessarily related to climate change. 

Romney also promises to "Approve the Keystone XL pipeline."  As we have previously discussed,

"Building the Keystone pipeline to exploit an unconventional source of fossil fuels is a step in the wrong direction"

At this point it remains unclear whether the Obama Administration will ultimately allow the construction of the Keystone pipeline; so far they have delayed it, but have not rejected it.  However, Romney has clearly placed this unconventional fossil fuel source higher on his energy policy priorities.  In fact, his policy plan strongly criticizes the Obama Administration for supposedly rejecting the pipeline.

As noted above, in terms of oil the demand side is far more important than the supply side - from a climate perspective the proverbial drop in the bucket that Romney wants to add in terms of oil production will make little difference.  However, on the demand side, Romney has vowed to eliminate the fuel efficiency standards imposed by the Obama Administration.  His justification for this position seems simply to be that fuel efficiency standards are an EPA regulation, and Romney doesn't like the EPA or government regulations in general.

Finally, at the very end of his policy paper, Romney mentions some non-fossil fuel energy sources, saying he will:

"Ensure that policies for expanding energy development apply broadly to energy sources from oil and gas exploration, to coal mining, to the siting of wind, solar, hydroelectric and other renewable energy facilities and revitalize nuclear power by equipping the NRC to approve new designs and to license approved reactor designs on approved sites within two years."

Even in this context, oil, gas, and coal get first billing and renewable energy is mentioned almost as an afterthought, which he immediately follows by disparaging the renewable energy sector:

"...companies like Solyndra were going bankrupt and the wind industry was shedding 10,000 jobs..."

In reality, jobs growth in the green energy sector has been a rare highlight in a bleak economy, so Romney's choice to focus on one bankrupt solar company and claim wind energy industry job loses again highlights his near-exclusive focus on fossil fuels.  Romney has also said he will allow the wind energy tax credit to expire.  As long as we're talking about shedding jobs, that could cost 37,000 of them.  While Romney's alternative energy policy is basically just more research, and for existing established technologies he offers continuing deployment support, but little else.

We concluded our analysis of Fred Singer's advice to Romney saying:

"We can only hope that no US president is influenced by Singer's anti-climate, anti-innovation misinformation."

Unfortunately Romney appears to have done just that, focusing his energy policy almost exclusively on increasing our already rapidly-rising domestic fossil fuel production at the expense of the climate.  A word count reveals that Romney's plan mentions the word "oil" 154 times, "climate" zero times.  And during his prime time presidential nomination acceptance speech, his only mention of climate change was to mock President Obama for promising to try and slow sea level rise, pausing while the audience laughed at the concept.  In answering a question about climate policy, Romney repeated the myth that carbon pricing will harm the economy and tried to shirk American responsibility by focusing on China's emissions (more on China below).  Most recently, in an interview on Meet the Press, Romney said

"I’m not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet."


Our overall verdict is that President Obama's energy policies are good, although his leadership on the climate change been insufficient to take us off the potentially catastrophic climate path.  Romney's plan would not only result in a failure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he wants to roll back emissions reduction policies implemented by the Obama Administration.  Mitt Romney's energy policies would not only keep us on our current path, they would stomp on the accelerator, sending us hurtling ever faster towards climate catastrophe


How are Other Countries' Climate Policies Progressing?

Last year we examined a trio of reports from the Australian government's Climate Commission entitled The Critical Decade.   Part 1 summarized the current state of climate science observational data, Part 2 discussed the risks associated with a changing climate, and Part 3 looked at the implications of the science on carbon emissions reductions.   The report concluded that this decade is critical in getting our greenhouse gas emissions under control enough to avoid dangerous climate change.

The Commission has recently released a new Critical Decade report about International Action on Climate Change.  The report again notes that this decade is critical in reducing emissions, that we have all the technology necessary to do so, and examines the policies of various countries toward that end.  Their findings are summarized in Figure 3 (Figure 3.2 on Page 34 of the report).

fig 3.2

Figure 3: Implemented and planned climate change actions in some major emitting economies.  Blue represents a sub-national action, pink represents a planned national action, and red represents an implemented national action.

Australia for example has done quite well, having implemented a carbon pricing system, renewable energy target, and energy efficiency standards on a national scale, with national transportation efficiency standards planned.  However, their success depends on whether opposition leader Tony Abbott succeeds in his promise to repeal the carbon pricing system, if he is elected as Prime Minister in 2013.  But at the moment, Australia is moving in the right direction.

China and India have done similarly well, having implemented a version of three of the four actions, with plans to implement the fourth.  Their emissions targets could still use tightening, but for developing countries which are often scapegoated and used by developed nations as an excuse not to reduce their own emissions (as Mitt Romney did), China and India are on the right track.  China in particular has been investing heavily in renewable energy.

The USA on the other hand is arguably doing the worst on the list.  So far a few individual states have implemented carbon pricing systems.  The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) has been a success for 9 states, but is a modest system, only targeting power plant emissions.  Most promising is California's far more aggressive cap and trade system, set to take effect in 2013.  California has long led the way in the USA on environmental issues, so hopefully the California system will be a model that the rest of the country will follow.  While some states have renewable energy and building efficiency standards, the USA is lagging behind on these actions on a national scale as well.

The European Union (EU) deserves high praise for being the only major economy to have achieved all four emissions reduction actions, despite the challenge of achieving agreement between 27 member nations.  The EU has long led the way on carbon emissions, implementing a cap and trade system in 2005, having set ambitious emissions reductions targets, having per person emissions that are less than half of those in the USA, Canada, and Australia, and which in general has been the global model on climate policy.  This is evident for example in their installation of solar energy, where EU nations have three of the top four and four of the top seven nations in installed capacity (Figure 4).

fig 3.4

Figure 4: Top nations in solar photovoltaic installed capacity (gigawatts).  Figure 3.4 in the latest Critical Decade report.

Japan also deserves much credit, being third on the list in Figure 4 (ahead of the much more populous USA), and with per person greenhouse gas emissions at a similar level to those in the EU.

Canada is not depicted in Figure 3 above, but is in a similar situation as the USA.  The per person emissions are roughly the same, and there has been some action on a local level (for example British Columbia's successful carbon tax), but there has been far too little action on a national level.  Canada also has local, but not national renewable energy targets.  The current national government has paid some lip service to climate change, but has taken few steps to actually address the issue, has pushed hard to develop the tar sands, and has generally treated climate scientists as pests.

Summary

The EU has set a good global standard in terms of climate policy which other nations should follow.  Japan's climate policy has also been quite good, and Australia is beginning to follow suit.  Developing nations - in particular China and India with their large populations - will also have to control their emissions if we are to have any chance in avoiding catastrophic climate change.  So far China and India have taken important steps in the right direction, which is a good sign.

The USA and Canada have lagged behind the rest of the developed world in terms of climate policy.  Both countries have achieved some important steps on the local level - British Columbia's carbon tax and California's planned cap and trade system are particularly promising.  However, there has been little climate leadership from either country on a national level.

In the USA, Mitt Romney's planned policy would take the USA significantly further in the wrong direction if he wins the election.  His energy policy focuses almost entirely on fossil fuels, and while his climate views have shifted several times, most recently he has said we don't know the cause and we shouldn't take any major steps to address the problem.  President Obama's energy policies are good, but he needs to take a much stronger leadership role on climate if we are to have any chance of catching up with the rest of the developed world in terms of emissions reductions and avoiding catastrophic climate change.

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Comments 1 to 40:

  1. Moderators - Fig. 1 has badly formatted HTML code, missing the initial "h".
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  2. Please note the Australian Govt appears to be back-peddling on the carbon tax. They've already removed the floor price, linked us to the EU carbon market (so companies can substitute cheap international credits with the expensive AU ones) and also cancelled the coal power station buy-out process. State Govts have also been cancelling/down-scaling the residential alternative energy schemes and subsidies.
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  3. KR @1 - thanks, fixed.

    Dale @2 - fair points, but it's still very early in the Australian system. Better to have a system in place that can be weakened or strengthened than no system at all.
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  4. Dale @ 2, Yes, it looks like the Australian government is backpeddling, but some observers point out that the link to the EU scheme will make dismantling of the Australian scheme more difficult. Of course political considerations seem to slow and weaken climate action at every turn.
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  5. "President Obama's energy policies are good, although his lack of leadership on the climate change has been insufficient to take us off the potentially catastrophic climate path."

    This sentence seems to mean the opposite from what is intended. What is an insufficient lack of leadership?

    This could be replaced with "...his leadership hasn't been sufficient to..." or some such phrasing.
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  6. Dale @ 2,

    It has occurred to me that the government changes are actually very smart politics, nullifying attacks from both directions simultaneously.

    Firstly, look at it from the "green" side: provided the number of carbon certificates issued by the Australian government gradually decreases over time as proposed, emissions will decrease. They may not decrease in Australia if Australian firms decide to buy them from Europe instead, but buying them from Europe prevents another European firm from buying them which means the reduction is still real. It doesn't matter if the CO2 is not emitted here or if it's not emitted in Europe, as long as it's not emitted. Australia will be doing "our fair share" and nobody can argue otherwise because the bottom line is the total emissions.

    Now look at it from the economic side: a large part of the scare campaign has been based around the idea that it will wreck our economy because our businesses will be uncompetitive and we're sticking our neck out too far beyond what the rest of the world is doing. This change neutralises that attack — we won't be paying too much and won't be sticking our neck out too far because we'll be in the same boat as hundreds of millions of other people, participating in the largest carbon market in the world. If other countries in that market limit emissions even more, we automatically have tighter constraints on emissions because we're competing in the same market for those emissions. If they loosen them, we automatically have looser constraints. Once the ETS is in place, Australia automatically plays its part and avoids becoming uncompetitive without having to change anything. (This becomes more true the more our competitors join the same market. I suspect that these benefits will convince more and more countries to do so, although it may take some time.)

    As for the coal power stations: their owners felt they were worth more than the government was willing to pay. If the government can reduce the same amount of emissions for less money elsewhere then they should do that. Those owners may turn out to be wrong: the European price may go much higher over the next few decades than they've assumed, which will greatly devalue their asset, but that's their problem now. I never really liked the "direct action" part of the plan anyway — it's like giving tobacco companies money in exchange for not selling cigarettes.

    I haven't looked at how the legislation works, but I would have thought none of this should have too much of a detrimental effect on the budget. If carbon costs much less than forecast, then the compensation required is less as well, so that should roughly balance out.
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  7. When I heard Romney's acceptance speech I think he did mention renewables but that part of the sentence was drowned out by appluause for the fossil fool bit.
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  8. On a related note, the UK now has a climate skeptic (or possibly just a wind farm skeptic - h/t Stoat) as environment minister - however he has no responsibilities with respect to climate change, except for possibly being able to affect wind farm permitting (The Register), and a health minister who believes in homeopathy (Telegraph).
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  9. Kevin @ 8. Don't forget we also have an equalities minister who opposes equal rights for gay people, and a health minister who want to wind up the NHS. Who would have thought Kafka would take over the government!
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    Moderator Response: [DB] Fixed text.
  10. Kevin C - Owen Paterson (the new environment minister) took part in a Shropshire wind farm planning consultation in 2008. The letter he wrote was recently used by George Monbiot in a blog post. Since then Shropshire Council have posted their planning officers report which has a summary of the letter.

    http://planningpa.shropshire.gov.uk/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=documents&keyVal=K0YDKRLO02U00

    http://www.monbiot.com/2012/09/06/declaring-war-on-the-environment/

    Paterson definitely opposed the wind farm and expressed a lot of dubious reasons for the opposition. In the officers report Bill Cash MP also opposed the wind farm.

    Interestingly whilst Northern Ireland minister Paterson did appear to support offshore wind, at least in official statements.
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  11. I strongly agree with U.S. assessment and it should be far stronger as a global technology leader. I'm still concerned that Obama has accepted a 100 year natural gas national supply in State of Union and this campaign. His recent action to double MPG requirements by 2025, CAFE, was welcome. It is regularly ignored in U.S. that global prices set fuel prices and increased production will likely result in increased export making self-sufficiency little more than a talking point. Approving deeper wells and Arctic drilling approval should be balanced against increased clean energy production. State level clean energy action is progressing in some states much faster than a national program. I'd much rather see high-speed-rail cross national lands, if anything, versus mining. Your point regarding Obama and the Keystone concerns me, current action is delay. Coal production versus coal power production are two points often ignored here. Coal mining will result in increased export as energy is reduced. Obama's DOE has accepted the vast supply of methyl hydrate gases as viable. That isn't carbon reduction. We waste power on a 50 year old infrastructure that neither party is likely to make serious efforts to catch up with the EU. Increasing and stronger weather events are still often accepted as flukes, ignoring similar global activity. I didn't know whether to smile or cry when middle U.S. temperatures were comparable to Australian Outback this year. Insufficient information was made available about reduced nuclear power production due to temp rise in cooling supplies.

    Grumpy old electrical engineer. U.S. should be leading the world in all climate beneficial and carbon reduction activities.
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  12. More about world's renewable capacity (not just PV) because Figure 4 gives not enough details. So, I'd like to provide better perspective below.

    This report, esp. Table 2 at page 6, shows the world's capacity as 1342GW in 2010, and projected to become 2167GW in 2017. The continuous consumption in 2009 was 15 terawatts, according to quick search on wikipedia. Of course, caparity does not equal production, and we all know problems with their integration, insufficient reliability to provide baseload, itd. So total renewable capacity is still only 10% of demand, while realistic production would be at best I guess 50% of capacity, thus 5% of demand. PVs are even smaller percentage of theat.

    The numbers above are probably the only guidance to Romney, who does not seem to look beyond just his potential 4 year term.

    However, the growth rate and price drop is more important consideration, IMO. And those, are about to reach or reached grid parity within this decade according to this analysis. If that forecast is believable, then we should see a big boom of PVs later in this decade. Pending the resolution of the PV energy storage issues, the fossil-powered plant imminent collapse will follow.

    That last vision suggests how short sighted is Romney's policy, if he puts renewables at the near-last place in his list.
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  13. More about world's renewable capacity (including PV) because Figure 4 gives not enough details.

    This report, esp. Table 2 at page 6, shows the world's capacity as 1342GW in 2010, and projected to become 2167GW in 2017. The continuous consumption in 2009 was 15 terawatts, according to quick search on wikipedia. Of course, caparity does not equal production, and we
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  14. This reminds me again of that old saying by, IIRC, Churchill:
    "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing - after they've tried everything else."
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  15. I don't have any problems with Australia buying carbon offsets from other countries instead of reducing our own carbon emissions - provided that the offsets are genuine. What matters is that we reduce and ultimately eliminate global carbon emissions. If it is more cost effective to pay someone else to reduce theirs faster so that we can reduce ours more slowly then that is what we should do.

    The danger with cap and trade systems is that carbon allocations are in effect a form of money and (as with water allocations or money itself) there will be a strong temptation for governments to simply create more, which of course results in a lowering of the price. It is crucial that the integrity of the system be maintained.

    Unfortunately Jason is wrong in thinking that a lower carbon price will result in lower compensation. The household compensation is fixed so a lower carbon price will result is a budget problem.
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  16. I really think you have given India and China too much credit. Are they still building coal power plants? How are their coal imports given the fact that they both have active coal mining industries? Do not confuse investments in wind and solar industries with actually constructing wind and solar plants in their own countries. It is a well know fact that China wishes to corner the wind and solar markets IN OTHER COUNTRIES. If you are willing to believe any of China’s “five year plans” I have a bridge I’d like to talk to you about. They remind me of the endless succession of unfulfilled “five year plans” that the old Soviet Union used to come up with during the 1960’s and ‘70’s. And China lies all the time about what their industrial and power plant emissions actually are.

    India is a completely different story. Not in the same league as China. It is basically a basket case. It still takes aid money while doling out aid to even poorer counties. It still subsidizes kerosene for lighting rural villages. In the most prosperous cities freshwater is delivered by truck. Power outages are a common occurrence in the nation’s capital.

    I certainly don’t expect India and China to be able to do anything to stop their relentlessly increasing CO2 emissions, or any of the other pollution problems they suffer from, anytime soon. Likewise I don’t expect the US to be able to do anything to initiate a carbon tax or a cap’n trade scheme. It is not up to the President it is up to congress. Now, I’m taking a chance here because I have been deleted before for “political remarks” and it does say “Political…comments will be deleted.” But SkepticalScience did choose the topic. So I will carry on…Since it is up to congress I’m sure you are all aware of the rampant conspiracy theory loving anti-science Republicans who dominate the House of Representatives and who are the minority party in the Senate. Since they dominate the House no climate bill will originate there and they will not take up a bill from the Senate if, by some miracle, the Senate were to pass one. Since, due to the “filibuster rule” in the Senate, the minority party actually has the majority by the throat, they can stop any bill the majority brings up. And it is possible for the Republicans to win the majority in the Senate with the upcoming elections so ending all possibility for climate legislation.

    The President and the Executive branch can do some minor things with the EPA but those new rules are being fought out in the courts and the court of ultimate appeal is dominated by the ultra-conservatives. As for the XL pipeline I think relations with our largest single nation trading partner has more to do with the final decision than CO2 emissions. Canada has only one way to get that sticky mess they call oil to foreign markets and that is through the US. US courts have granted that foreign multinational corporation eminent domain rights to force farmers to allow the pipeline to cross their land. So Obama will probably allow the pipeline to say on good terms with Canada and the farmers are powerless to stop it.

    So whatever the other more intelligent nations of the world might do, carbon pollution will not be reduced in the next 10 years or so. And most probably CO2 emissions will continue to increase for at least another 15 to 20 years. When we finally get the majority of the polluting nations to agree to some kind of policy it will only reduce CO2 emissions not end them. So world wide atmospheric CO2 will continue to go up at a slower pace. What we all need to do is start thinking about adaptation because mitigation seems out of the question.
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  17. M Tucker, while I don't have anything to say (right now) about the bulk of your comment, the last sentence really bugs me, because it's the new meme going around from the professional doubters. It ostensibly assumes (wrongly) that we're going to move in step-like fashion from one climate regime to the next, and since we now cannot stop that step from happening, we should just start preparing.

    I know that might not be what you're after, but it's disturbing to read anyway.
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  18. M Tucker @16 - I don't think you're being fair to China, which is installing a lot of solar and wind. Yes they're also still installing new coal because of the sheer speed of their development, but they recognize not only the climate impacts, but also the air quality and direct health impacts of those new coal plants.

    It's also not an either-or choice between mitigation and adaption. We will have to do both, but the more mitigation we manage, the less adaptation (and suffering) will be necessary.
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  19. Tucker @16
    Think of global warming as a train wreck that we know is going to happen. "We" are the people on Earth, the people on the train. Your suggestion implies that we should not intend to slow the train because it is going to crash anyway, so just get cushions and hold on ... while that makes sense, it also does to try to slow the train down so that the wreck will be less horrible and easier to cushion. Check out the post here
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  20. DSL, if you think I’m not disturbed then I guess I need to use more forceful language. People who deny climate change have nothing to say about adaptation because it is unnecessary because nothing unusual is happening. Please direct me to any mitigation in progress that has done anything to end the relentless rise in CO2 or even slowed the increase. I mean actual numbers because I am well aware of the pathetically small increases in clean energy installations.

    I’m not saying we should not try to mitigate this tragedy I’m saying that the majority of the polluting nations are doing nothing to mitigate this tragedy and they will continue as before.

    China is the most polluted nation on earth at the moment. What little installations of wind and solar China has actually done is insignificant to the amount of coal they consume. And they are only consuming more. Their domestic sources are not enough to keep up with their relentless demand. So much so that they have created an environmental nightmare in Mongolia…AND THAT IS NOT ENOUGH. China requires coal to be imported from Australia and Indonesia and even from as far away as the US. They are a coal consuming monster. And will they simply walk away from those coal power plants 10 or 15 years from now when they are still in their prime? I doubt it because they are very economically pragmatic people. So I’m not calling for governments to adapt to the climactic catastrophe thundering toward us I am saying that prudent individuals need to look for adaptive strategies because our governments have other priorities.
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  21. China's nothing if not pragmatic, at least in a selective way.

    China is also a fascinating case of a political system where grand experiments that economists elsewhere can only dream of may be implemented overnight, arbitrarily and without hesitation:

    A Chinese City Moves to Limit New Cars

    The municipal government of Guangzhou, a sprawling metropolis that is one of China’s biggest auto manufacturing centers, introduced license plate auctions and lotteries last week that will roughly halve the number of new cars on the streets.

    Leaving aside the many defects of the context in which this is possible, it's incautious to dismiss China's ability to pivot around emerging challenges.

    By skipping the details of discussing what might go wrong, how to let the invisible hand of the market brainlessly grope its way to a decision, where to stop the endless process of R&D (aka "perfection") and instead "choosing" to move quickly to deployment China has installed more than the equivalent of 40 nuclear plants' worth of solar domestic hot water production in the past few years.

    Here in "progressive" Seattle we can't get the building code to steer new home construction toward installation of solar DHW, in spite of the fact that a reasonable deployment density would eliminate consumption equivalent of the single coal power plant now operating in Washington state. All sorts of excuses were made over this, including from unlikely sources such as architects who are presumably wringing their hands over feng shui.

    We talk, the Chinese do. We don't want to emulate their political system but we should strive to imitate their alacrity.
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  22. M Tucker, I don't think you're not disturbed. I was just concerned by the way the sentiment was concluded. Just because mitigation has thusfar failed to any significant extent, that's no reason to abandon it. The message your final sentence might send to the science-naive individual is "Ah, so I don't need to cut back on energy or buy those Shasta White shingles, because we're screwed anyway." It might be saying that even though you want to say, "Plan to adapt, but continue to try to mitigate, because mitigation at any level makes adaptation less painful -- whether it's you or your grandchildren."
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  23. From today’s (Sept 11) Bloomberg Businessweek.

    "Inner Mongolia’s rivers are feeding China’s coal industry, turning grasslands into desert. In India, thousands of farmers have protested diverting water to coal- fired power plants, some committing suicide.

    The struggle to control the world’s water is intensifying around energy supply. China and India alone plan to build $720 billion of coal-burning plants in two decades, more than twice today’s total power capacity in the U.S., International Energy Agency data show. Water will be boiled away in the new steam turbines to make electricity and flush coal residue at utilities from China Shenhua Energy Co. (1088) to India’s Tata Power Co. (TPWR) that are favoring coal over nuclear because it’s cheaper.

    With China set to vaporize water equal to what flows over Niagara Falls each year, and India’s industrial water demand growing at twice the pace of agricultural or municipal use, Asia’s most populous nations will have to reconsider energy projects to avoid conflict between cities, farmers and industry." Just part of the article. Search China Coal in google news.

    It paints a rosy picture of the “green giant of Asia” doesn’t it?

    I wonder why China is putting pressure on those islands that Japan claims? Could it be natural gas? Yep, China sure seems to be committed to wind and solar…

    DSL I'm not abandoning anything. Our governments have abandoned us.
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  24. GWS, Those downward curves are to my way of thinking fantasy. Wishful thinking. And, if you really think that we have not already ensured that the world will experience 2 to 3 degrees of warming after equilibrium with our current CO2 levels you just haven’t been reading the science and have been spending too much time listening to bureaucrats. “Dire Predictions” by Michael Mann and Lee R Kump. Any article by Dr Kump. Article in American Scientist by Marci Robinson May-June 2011 “Pliocene Climate Lessons.” With CO2 levels similar to today’s the earth warmed 2 to 3 degrees and sea level stood about 25 meters (yes meters) higher at equilibrium.
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  25. How can an assessment of climate policies pretend to be complete without including nuclear policies. Here's a reminder of the significance: OECD Electricity generation by fuel
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  26. Given that this is a policy thread, it's probably as good a place as any for commenting on something about which I've been thinking for a while.

    I suspect that AR5 will be the last assessment report that will be focussed on what humans need to do in terms of emissions to prevent serious climate change.

    AR6+ will be more focussed on beginning the documentation of how we missed the boat, how we set in train the destruction of a benign global climate, and how we can best slow the trip to the calamity that is so disparaged by the denialati.

    Basically, after 2013 these reports will be musak for the CO2/temperature elevator.
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  27. Stevo @4
    "will make dismantling of the Australian scheme more difficult"

    Not really. No law cannot be undone. Besides, if it's "too difficult" all the Libs would have to do is raise the threshold where the tax sets in to some ridiculous level that no company meets. Voila, carbon tax gone.

    It will be interesting to watch the circus in Canberra, but the end of the day is we need to get off fossil fuels. Now or later, that's the reality. Even if you don't believe in climate change, the economic justification for moving towards self-sufficient energy policies (alternative energies) far outweighs the economics of continuing to import a reducing-supply commodity.
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  28. M Tucker,

    I really think you have given India and China too much credit.


    I don't think we give them enough. Seriously. It's a bit rich for people in Australia, Canada, or the US to complain about China's emissions when their per-capita emissions are only about 1/3 of ours and they are responsible for only about 9% of total emissions to date, which is what got us into this problem in the first place.

    I use "per-capita" there very deliberately because the only reason why "China" has a lot of emissions is because you've drawn a line around 20% of the world's population, added up all their emissions, and pointed out how big it is. Why stop there? Americans could draw a line around the US and then add up everyone else's emissions and say "Look, that pesky RoW is responsible for over 80% of the emissions, I think we should wait until they get their house in order before we start cutting."

    Each country should be focussing on their own per capita emissions. That way it doesn't matter if you're a big country or a small country, you're only being asked to take care of your fair share. We often hear that Australia is only responsible of less than 2% of global emissions, for example — that's fine, we're only being asked to take care of that 2%. Nobody is expecting us to counteract somebody else's emissions.

    What makes it even more ironic is that China really is doing a lot. They have 25 nuclear reactors under construction right now, and planning to have a nuclear capacity of 60 GWe by 2020, then 200 GWe by 2030, and 400 GWe by 2050 (ibid.). Their growth in wind power has been absolutely phenomenal — over 60 GW added in six years, equivalent to about 20 GW of nuclear or coal capacity. Yes, they have also added huge amounts of coal power over the years as well, but they seem to be actually doing an awful lot more than many countries who actually should be doing a lot more.

    Do not confuse investments in wind and solar industries with actually constructing wind and solar plants in their own countries.


    If other countries were actually constructing wind farms as quickly as China has been in China then that would be great.

    If you are willing to believe any of China’s “five year plans” I have a bridge I’d like to talk to you about.


    Back in 2005 China set a target of 30 GW of wind capacity by 2020. 18 months later they increased it to 40 GW because they were ahead of schedule. They reached 40 GW three years later instead of 13 years later. Now their target is 150 GW by 2015 — an increase of 90 GW over their 2011 capacity. Given their history of under-promising and over-delivering, and the fact that they've managed 20 GW/year in the past, I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
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  29. gws,

    Perhaps a better analogy would be:

    A head-on collision with another vehicle is imminent. You're travelling three times as fast as the other vehicle. Do you:

    1. Brake as hard as you can to minimise the impact as much as you are able to?

    2. Signal to the other driver that you'll only brake if he does?

    3. Say "Braking won't prevent the collision so there's no point, let's just adapt to what happens afterwards"?
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  30. Also to note in China, while building coal faster than retiring, they are also retiring old inefficient coal stations. According to our marketing people (got software for sale for thermal plants), "From 2006 to 2010, China retired almost 71 gigawatts of coal-fired capacity, including 11 gigawatts in 2010, and it plans to retire an additional 8 gigawatts in 2011."
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  31. Dale @ 27. I agree with you. Just because a tactic will make something more difficult does not mean it will become impossible.Whether it is the ending the monetary incentives which encouraged installation of solar panels, reversals in plans to buy off brown coal power stations, or any of the other incremental changes being made I cannot help but feel that now global warming is no longer a hot political topic the carbon scheme will be hailed as proof something was done. Now that the record shows some action as having been taken governments of both political stripes can dismantle any real ecological benefit one small step at a time. The economics are complex enough for any change to be argued as a positive or negative step depending on how you'd like to see it spun on the day.

    Sorry, but neither major Australian political party seems willing to state their actual conviction on this subject. I can only conclude this as meaning that neither of them cares enough to make a real stand for anything other than the next poll.
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  32. Stevo:

    I agree with you, but with caveats. For instance, the reason the States are removing the residential schemes is because of State debts. A lot of environmental policies have been brought in over the last 10 years in good faith, but bad economic planning. We're seeing the results of that now with increasing taxes, reductions in public spending, difficulties in balancing books and shrinking credit lines. Unfortunately no Govt can live on those parameters for a sustained amount of time. Just look at Queensland and how Newman is having to slash programs and departments all over the place.

    And on the Federal front, the whole toxicity of "climate change" stems from one simple statement that Gillard made for the last election (no need to repeat it, everyone knows it). I think largely that whilst good faith and intentions have been shown at all levels of Govt, things have just been approached the wrong way. There's a million BETTER ways it could have been approached.

    For instance, the whole topic of energy independence is of high importance to the people. If the Govt had of put the issue up as one of sustainable energy development, and the reduction on reliance on a diminishing resource and movement to an infinite resource, the public would not see it as an "environmental" program, but an "economic" program. That completely eliminates the whole CC debate as a factor as you're then at the plate with sound economic principles of guaranteed supply of resources to produce energy. No matter what anyone says, just keep repeating the economic line.

    The sad thing is, the whole "thing" around the Gillard agreement with the Greens and Indies to put a carbon tax on and then slamming it through, all with no involvement of the public (in fact quite the opposite as it was put through in an Authoritarian way), will set environmental policy (not just CC but any environmental policy) back 5-10 years.
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  33. Sceptical Wombat,

    The danger with cap and trade systems is that carbon allocations are in effect a form of money and (as with water allocations or money itself) there will be a strong temptation for governments to simply create more, which of course results in a lowering of the price. It is crucial that the integrity of the system be maintained.


    Sure. But auditing each country's issued permits is straightforward, and if someone is found cheating then their permits can be declared invalid or worth less than face value by the amount of the over-subscription (a form of inflation, if you will).

    Also, my understanding is that Europe has moved to a centralised cap and registry so individual countries won't be able to do that anyway.

    Unfortunately Jason is wrong in thinking that a lower carbon price will result in lower compensation. The household compensation is fixed so a lower carbon price will result is a budget problem.


    Well, that just means that rather than the compensation being automatically calculated each year it just becomes part of the normal budget-making process.

    Each year, Treasury could forecast the carbon price for the following year and estimate its impact just like they did when the carbon tax was introduced, then the government could add a buffer to minimise the risk that the price will rise higher than expected and the compensation would be insufficient, and then include it in the budget for the following year.

    This is true regardless of what the current legislation says. No Parliament can make a law binding a future Parliament (Tony Abbott wants to repeal it entirely, remember!), and the budget has to pass through Parliament anyway.

    (This is one of the things that always made me laugh about the GST legislation. Peter Costello made a big deal about the idea that the only way to change the rate of the GST was if every state parliament and the federal parliament agreed. This is of course complete and utter rubbish, the GST legislation is an Act of Parliament and can be modified by any future Act of Parliament no matter what the original Act says. The only thing binding Parliament is the Constitution.)

    So, it's really just a political question. If Labor is still in power by 2015 and the carbon price is still really low and this is going to be an issue for the budget, the obvious solution is to tell voters that they don't need as much compensation because it isn't costing that much. There is no reason that the carbon price should cause a budget problem. It could cause a political problem if the international price skyrockets during the year and the compensation thus calculated turns out to be insufficient, but mid-year reviews and additional handouts are not unknown.
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  34. JasonB:

    The "Household Assistance Package" was a once-off initial payment, and then will be reflected from March 2013 as an increase in already existing Govt pensions/assistance programs (FTB, seniors, disability, etc) as well as tax breaks. It's not a once-a-year lump sum thing.

    http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/subjects/clean-energy-future

    So it's not a case of "reducing the carbon tax compensation" as it is a case of "reducing family payment" or "reducing Commonwealth Disability Pension", etc. In other words, it's a lot uglier to force down as those existing programs are seen as essential to those who receive those payments.

    So it's a political problem in that the Govt set it up to be a political problem for a future Parl (of either party) and a budgetary problem because the public backlash to remove the carbon tax component from those programs will be high.
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  35. Dale,

    And on the Federal front, the whole toxicity of "climate change" stems from one simple statement that Gillard made for the last election (no need to repeat it, everyone knows it).


    Ironically, what really made me angry was that one simple statement itself, shortly after Rudd's backflip on the CPRS, because it represented a broken promise of the last election!

    However, looking more carefully at her position prior to the election shows it was a bit more nuanced than that. For example, the day before the election:

    JULIA Gillard says she is prepared to legislate a carbon price in the next term.

    [...]

    In an election-eve interview with The Australian, the Prime Minister revealed she would view victory tomorrow as a mandate for a carbon price, provided the community was ready for this step.

    "I don't rule out the possibility of legislating a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, a market-based mechanism," she said of the next parliament. "I rule out a carbon tax."

    This is the strongest message Ms Gillard has sent about action on carbon pricing.
    (Source)

    She wasn't opposed to pricing carbon. That was actually a message to the Greens that she wasn't going to support their model, not a message to the electorate that a carbon price was off the table. And she didn't support the Greens model! The fact is that the current "carbon tax" is actually an ETS with a fixed-price initial period, just like the CPRS was, but everyone called the CPRS an ETS while this gets called a tax. I suspect that her advisers have told her it's better not to argue this point because it looks too "tricky", but it's also true.

    The sad thing is, the whole "thing" around the Gillard agreement with the Greens and Indies to put a carbon tax on and then slamming it through, all with no involvement of the public (in fact quite the opposite as it was put through in an Authoritarian way), will set environmental policy (not just CC but any environmental policy) back 5-10 years.


    "slamming it through"? You mean "passing it through both Houses of Parliament despite having a minority in both Houses, following the formation of a multi-party parliamentary committee to determine policy on climate change that spent months working out the details, following the failure to pass the previous legislation that was also worked out over months of negotiation between Labor and Turnbull's Liberals"?

    "put through in an Authoritarian way"? Exactly how should the government put bills through Parliament? We are a Parliamentary democracy, we elect representatives to sit in Parliament and act on our behalf. Are you suggesting that the public should have a referendum on each and every bill?

    It's not like this came out of the blue. An Emissions Trading Scheme was the policy of both Labor and the Coalition at the 2007 election. The Coalition reneged on their policy after months of negotiation over the CPRS with Labor following Tony Abbott's replacement of Turnbull. Gillard went to the 2010 election saying she was prepared to legislate a carbon price. Following the election, where the Greens won the balance of power with a carbon tax policy, she set up a parliametary committee that devised a scheme almost the same as the CPRS and managed to pass it through both houses. The only complaint that could be made is that she said she ruled out a carbon tax prior to the election but the ETS she introduced behaves like a carbon tax for the first three years before becoming a full-blown ETS.

    It seems to me that the rhetoric is somewhat overblown.
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  36. Dale,

    So it's not a case of "reducing the carbon tax compensation" as it is a case of "reducing family payment" or "reducing Commonwealth Disability Pension", etc. In other words, it's a lot uglier to force down as those existing programs are seen as essential to those who receive those payments.


    This looks like a prime candidate:

    http://www.humanservices.gov.au/customer/services/centrelink/clean-energy-supplement

    I'm not eligible for any of the supplements so I don't know if they're broken out as a separate amount in the statements, but if so, it's only logical that if the amount of the supplement is more than it turns out is required to cover the actual costs then it can be reduced.

    The alternative is to simply freeze it or increase it at less than inflation to reduce it with less backlash. I think the possibility of a backlash is overstated, however.

    It's all swings and roundabouts, anyway; not all of the money collected from carbon permits goes into compensation, so if need be they can always reduce grants for clean energy research, which is also funded by the proceeds. There are much larger threats to the budget bottom line than this.
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  37. "There are much larger threats to the budget bottom line than this."

    Yes there are, the crashing economy and the brainless promises of billions more spent on the eve of a huge revenue drop.

    Oh well, such is life. :)
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  38. (including some not fully backed up speculation)

    Now that many of the climate models have been 'proven wrong', mostly for the more rapid disappearance of the arctic ice than projected, it would be nice to have a look on what the models have predicted for 2070s. For sure the rearrangement of the wind fields, f.e. in the models during a period of little sea ice (2070-90s in many models) might be a way to look how the weather patterns are likely to develop in the future (i.e. my estimate, during 2030s). Of course many of the models still lack f.e. the methane feedback system, and thus do not represent the realism (as in the art of scale modelling) one would like them to have, but anyway they are likely giving rough directions as to how f.e. the temperatures & relative humidities are going to change. As they are based on very basic equations and principles on how the turbulent flows behave on a rotating spheroid (simulated earth) and the basic thermodynamic equations they cannot be completely off on selected measures. The statistical models on the other hand maybe way off for there isn't too many occurrences of de-icing of the planet to take statistics from! Even further, it would be nice to take a look back on how the meteorology has explained the everyday weather phenomena, to better guess where the everyday phenomena might in the future happen with predictable regularity. Since a major rearrangement of at least NH weather systems due the disappearance of the Arctic Sea Ice has been a regularly proposed prediction since Rio1992, I think this could be a way to introduce people to the future climate. Of course, as it happens, the speed of the melt has surprised most so the projected tempereature ranges in the models for 2020-2070 are all in the table for near future imho. For how long does, and for how extremely, this messy situation in the weather continue, depends imho on how far from the equilibrium feedback the climate system is, so diminishing the emissions would be good in this respect too.

    jyyh @+20 ASL
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  39. Tucker @24
    I am a pessimist, so your seemingly stronger pessimism than mine caused me to make a comment. So, I agree that the forecast "we are all doomed" is far more likely than "it will be fine". But I have a son, and when he is older I want to be able to say to him: "I have tried, personally and by means of influencing others", and I would like him not to be in despair about his future. Every bit of CO2 emission avoidance helps, finger-pointing does not. Wishful thinking? Maybe so. But people have said that about many things that ultimately became true.
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  40. Gws @39

    First I want to say again, I have not abandoned anything. I keep looking for ways to reduce my own carbon footprint and I will not vote for a denier. I support all programs that will reduce fossil fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. I live in California and our state has some strong programs in place to encourage wind and solar and reduce emissions. But I cannot ignore the truth. We are at about 392 ppmv of CO2 and that will stay in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. The science (not models but actual research on the Pliocene warm period) tells me that is sufficient to produce 2 to 3 degrees of warming at equilibrium absent the cooling effects of aerosols. Civilization will only continue to pump out more. Even if all the polluting nations limit emissions, the atmospheric concentration will only go up. For me this does not mean the end of civilization or mankind it means a very difficult future. A very expensive future. A future where freshwater and food become scarce and more expensive in places where it was once abundant and cheap. Places that now find it difficult or impossible to provide those will suffer more. Places that are spending fortunes to move water and irrigate agriculture might find their efforts ineffective to ensure a comfortable future.

    I have children and grandchildren. Considering their future makes this awful truth very hard to live with. But I have learned that life is full of awful truths. My first awful truth came when I was only five. At school I experienced my first “duck and cover drill.” Mom and Dad had not told me I lived in a world where nuclear annihilation was a possibility. Just because it has not happened yet does not mean we have felt that nightmare in the past. Russia and the US still have thousands of MRV’ed missiles pointed at each other. I wonder if Russia takes as much care with the upkeep of their launching systems as the US? No country matches the US in defense spending and that is part of it. If not sparked by accidental launch we still have a world full of unstable warring people and unstable nations armed with nuclear devices. Other awful truths were discovered as I grew older but I will move on to AGW.

    Like you I was born into this world where our wonderful civilization was created by cheap fossil fuels and irrigated agriculture; growing in places where nature did not intend for those crops to flourish. I first learned about global warming in about 1980. When I learned that to avoid catastrophic warming we would need to end fossil fuel use I became immediately pessimistic that we would do so in my lifetime. With the advent of much cheaper and more efficient solar cells and much more efficient wind turbines I now believe it is possible to end fossil fuel use immediately for energy production. I really wish the rich nations would immediately switch to those but they are not; not even China where the government really is in charge of energy production. The way I see it civilization will take about 40 more years, maybe longer, to finally get to a place where the majority of our energy is produced by non-fossil fuel technologies and the majority of transportation finally moves to electric or carbon neutral solutions. I fully expect that in 40 years many of the predicted shortages in food and water will be a reality and extreme weather events will become a very common occurrence.

    Does that mean I have given up all hope? Of course not. Each year very bright and very talented young people go off to university with new ideas and approaches. I cannot believe in something that does not exist yet but I do not abandon the possibility that something completely unknown to us now will come along and change everything, or at least open a door to a new avenue of approach. In the mean time I still work for change but I cannot ignore what science has taught me. If I were to illustrate my dual emotions produced by the awful truths I perceive and the hope I cling to, the despair would be pictured by Durer’s Melancholia because even with all the negative symbolism the angle and the cherub do not seem to have given up completely. For hope I would choose the Flammarion engraving, the one where mankind breaks through into the unknown, because that is what I believe is always possible for mankind while I keep in mind we frequently get unwanted consequences.
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