Climate change adaptation: the Nordic countries in a global perspective


Presented by Richard Klein (Stockholm Environment Institute) at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Bergen, Norway, August 2016.

By Dr. Wilfried B.M. ten Brinke, (Article was first published 14 September, 2016 on ) 

In large parts of the world, climate change is a matter of life and death. In the Nordic region, it is at worst an inconvenience and at best a boon’. With these words Richard Klein of the Stockholm Environment Institute characterizes how climate change was perceived in the Scandinavian countries 10 years ago. Reduced snow security for cross-country skiing is one of the main negative impacts, people thought. And a warmer Scandinavia would bring many benefits, such as a longer growing season for agriculture and more potential for hydropower.

Since then, this complacency about climate adaptation has faded as Scandinavian countries have faced destructive floods, windstorms, landslides and wildfires. Richard Klein adds another dimension to the relationship between climate change and the Nordic region: impacts that result from the Nordic region being connected to the rest of the world. He brings two impacts to the fore. The first is the effect that climate change impacts elsewhere in the world may have on Nordic people and business. Examples include the disruption of supply chains of international companies affected by the floods in Thailand in 2011, and Russia’s grain export ban after wildfires had destroyed one third of the country’s grain crop in 2010. The second impact is the way in which consumption patterns in Nordic countries may put other countries at higher risk of climate change. Examples are the destruction of rain forest to cultivate palm oil, and the large volumes of water that are used in water-stressed countries to produce goods for the Western world.

There are many more examples to illustrate how the world matters to the Nordic countries and how Nordic countries matter to the world, in terms of climate change. According to Richard these examples cover 3 types of interdependencies between the Nordic countries and the rest of the world: adaptation finance, indirect impacts, and consumption-driven vulnerability.

International Adaptation Finance

Nordic countries will have to contribute to supporting developing countries to adapt to the consequences of climate change. On a global scale total costs for adaptation will be tens to hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars per year. Nordic countries are mainstreaming their contribution into their development assistance. This may sound like the same money is labelled twice, while adaptation finance should be new and additional to development aid. ‘Mainstreaming of adaptation finance into development aid is a good thing in principle’, Richard states. ‘Especially in Scandinavian countries, which already contribute their fair share to development aid. A lot can be achieved by creating synergies between adaptation and development. Being cost-effective is important, because donor countries are held accountable by their taxpayers.

Indirect impacts of climate change

We live in a globalized and hyper-connected world. Countries may be affected by developments in other countries, sometimes at the other side of the globe. Richard summarizes 4 pathways of indirect impact. The first one is biophysical. Along a river, for instance, droughts in upstream river basins reduce river flow and affect biophysical conditions downstream. Another is trade, like the example of disrupted supply chains in Thailand. Finance, number 3, is the fact that a devastating impact of extreme storms, floods or droughts on a country’s economy may affect the economy in a distant country as well, because of a heavy burden on public or private financial resources. Fourth is the pathway of people on the move driven by droughts or conflicts, or moving from north to south in the summer season as tourists.

As a result of these pathways Nordic countries may be less robust with respect to climate change than one might conclude when considering only climate change impacts within these countries. ‘The disruption of supply chains due to the Thailand flooding was an eye opener for many, including big companies’, Richard adds. ‘Awareness of indirect impacts of climate change has grown since then. Big companies, for instance, diversify their supply chains and derive their base material from more countries, making their production less vulnerable to natural hazards.’

Consumption-driven vulnerability

Every day we consume products that have an ecological footprint in other parts of the world. Crops are grown for our consumption in parts of the world that are already water-stressed. Conflicts arise over commodities that affect food security, such as growing biofuels for rich countries instead of food for the local population. According to Richard we all, citizens of rich countries, are part of the problem and part of the solution. Richard: ‘To reduce this type of vulnerability means to change our behaviour’.

To conclude

Richard concludes that the scope of Nordic climate adaptation policy, including adaptation finance, is too limited. In addition to addressing a direct climate change vulnerability at home and abroad, attention should also be given to the possible indirect impacts on the Nordic region resulting from climate change elsewhere. Awareness is lacking of the various pathways that can exacerbate climate risk within the Nordic region and beyond. Interdependencies between the Nordic countries and the rest of the world should become part of Nordic adaptation strategies. Richard: ‘This is not just about risks; there are opportunities as well. The Nordic tourism sector, for instance, may benefit from the fact that summers in the rest of Europe are getting too hot for comfort.

Photo: European Commission DG Echo ( 




How to anticipate climate change in large infrastructure projects – Examples from Swedish reservoirs


Presented by Gunn Persson (Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute SMHI) at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Bergen, Norway, August 2016.

By Dr. Wilfried B.M. ten Brinke, (Article was first published 23 September, 2016 on

More rainfall throughout the year may proof beneficial for the hydropower industry, but it also raises questions regarding the safety of the infrastructure, i.e. large dams, under future climate conditions. Climate change projections must be included in the design of dams. In Sweden, guidelines for dams now include anticipating climate change. What upper limits of climate change did they include?

In 1985 a dam at a hydropower reservoir failed in central Sweden during a major storm. Luckily, the downstream residents had been warned and there were no fatalities. This failure was the trigger to speed up the work on new guidelines for the design of dams. The latest edition of the guidelines includes regulations on how to anticipate the consequences of climate change. In brief, with respect to climate change dam design must be based on a combination of 3 boundary conditions. First, the reservoir’s capacity must be large enough to safely store or discharge the snowmelt inflow as a result of a snow pack that accumulates on average once every 30 years. In addition, the capacity must be large enough for a period of 14 days of intensive rainfall. Third, dam safety must be safeguarded when this combination of snowmelt and rainfall occurs when the subsoil is already saturated.

These 3 conditions must be quantified for 2100, based on a set of scenarios of climate change run by a large number of models. This way an upper limit of extreme conditions is defined to guarantee dam safety for the long run. In practice, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute SMHI makes these calculations and delivers the output, in terms of variables like water inflow, reservoir water level and water volume, to the hydropower industry.

Gunn Persson, hydrologist at SMHI, stresses the importance of using several climate scenarios to substantiate the upper limit in design guidelines. ‘Investments are made for the long run. This means that decisions have to be made under uncertainty’, she clarifies. She also realizes that it’s not just uncertainty of climate change the industry has to deal with. ‘Society changes faster than climate, and this affects energy demand’, she adds.

What is the best way to deal with uncertainty when making decisions for the long run? Make the investments that cannot be avoided at the beginning, but postpone investments that can be made later. This flexibility allows for waiting how climate change develops. The outlet of Lake Mälaren near Stockholm, for instance, needs to be reconstructed. This reservoir is the fresh water supply for 2 million people and a higher discharge capacity is needed in present conditions. But the design should be robust enough for climate change and changes in demand for the rest of this century. This is especially important for the outlet capacity, while the regulation strategies will need to be adjusted during the life-span of the construction to meet future changes in climate and inflow patterns. According to Gunn Persson it is more complicated to make a ‘climate proof’ design for this lake than for most reservoirs in Sweden. Gunn: ‘For this lake, we not only have to deal with the inflow but also with sea level rise that hinders the outflow. This sea level rise in turn has to be considered in combination with land uplift, since Sweden is still rising in response to the last ice age’. The latter is a benefit in this case. Gunn: ‘Because of land uplift sea level rise will not be much of a problem in the first 50 years’, she concludes.

Photo: Vattenfall (



Urban adaptation to climate change in Europe


Based on a presentation by Birgit Georgi (European Environment Agency) at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Bergen, Norway, August 2016.

By Dr. Wilfried B.M. ten Brinke, (Article was first published 26 September, 2016 on ) 

Urban impacts

Heat waves combined with urban heat islands can result in large death tolls. Extremely high temperatures in August 2003, for instance, led to an excess of 15,000 deaths in France alone, most of them elderly. In 2011 a cloudburst hit Copenhagen; total insurance claims exceeded 800 million euros. In 2002 large-scale river flooding in the Czech Republic and Germany led to many fatalities and billions of Euros of damage. The cities of Prague and Dresden were hit particularly bad. During a similar flood in 2013 these cities suffered far less damage, thanks to flood protection measures taken since 2002. Clearly, cities are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. The European Environment Agency provides knowledge to help them adapt. In 2016 they published their latest report ‘Urban adaptation to climate change in Europe 2016. Transforming cities in a changing climate’ (click here to download this report).

Three approaches for cities to adapt

According to Birgit Georgi, one of the authors of this report, there are 3 approaches for cities to adapt to climate change. First, they can just respond to the damages during and after an event with emergency services and by rebuilding houses and infrastructure. This is basically coping with hazards. Second, they can take measures to avoid future damage and casualties if a similar event recurs by building and improving conventional protection measures such as stronger dykes or better air conditioning. This approach is about taking actions with future climate change in mind, thus working on a more permanent solution to ‘climate proof the urban environment’. The third one is, what Birgit calls, ‘transformative adaptation’: changing the way we build our cities or organize our lives in view of climate change. ‘Examples of the latter are floating houses in flood prone areas and green roofs to cool buildings and delay storm discharge to avoid urban flooding. Transformative adaptation means finding a completely different strategy to deal with the consequences of climate change,’ Birgit adds.

For cities the changing climate has many facets. It’s about dealing with heat stress and vector-born diseases, a new design of urban drainage, findings ways to live with floods, secure water for times of droughts, and a lot more, intertwined with other environmental and socio-economic factors. Birgit: ‘The consequences of climate change are systemic challenges that require systemic solutions. These solutions may be one of the 3 approaches or a combination, as long as we don’t get ‘locked-in’ into solutions that may no longer be effective in the future’, Birgit stresses.

Key areas to make urban adaptation a success

The EEA report sheds light on 5 key areas for cities to address to make urban adaptation a success. Effective governance is one of them. ‘Thanks to national support almost all municipalities in Denmark have an adaptation plan. This is remarkable’, Birgit clarifies. Number 2 and 3 are sufficient knowledge and awareness, and knowledge brokers to communicate the right knowledge to authorities. Number 4 is economics. Birgit: ‘This is not just about finding money for investments. It’s also about finding ways to keep the costs for measures and strategies manageable in the long run.’ The last one is monitoring, reporting and evaluating these measures and strategies. Cities like Helsinki and Rotterdam have already taken first steps.

Are we on track?

Are European cities on track? Not yet! Cities do adapt but not all actions are sufficiently effective in the long run. According to Birgit cities should see the need to adapt as an opportunity. ‘A new urban design in view of climate change can make cities more attractive and then becomes an investment into a better future. Besides, it’s wise to combine climate change adaptation, a long-term investment, with short-term benefits’, she concludes.

Photo: Oshokim (



Lucky Norway. Hydropower and the benefits of climate change


Based on a presentation by Per Sanderud (head of the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate NVE) and a discussion with Hege Hisdal (NVE hydrologist) and Christina Beisland (NVE economist) at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Bergen, Norway, August 2016.

By Dr. Wilfried B.M. ten Brinke, (Article was first published 16 September, 2016 on ) 

Most people see climate change as a development that negatively affects their lives at some point in the future. There are also benefits, however, especially in Northern Europe. One of the benefits is the increase of hydropower potential for electricity production, and the country that benefits most of this is Norway. Currently 50% of Europe’s reservoir capacity is concentrated in Norway. The conditions for hydropower will further improve in the north while they will deteriorate in most parts of Europe.

In the second half of this century, hydropower potential in Norway may increase up to about 15%, according to Hege Hisdal, hydrologist at the Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate NVE. The increase depends on the rate of climate change, but also on processes in the water cycle that today cannot be quantified accurately enough. ‘We need more knowledge on especially the amount of evapotranspiration under changes in rainfall, temperature and other climate variables. This is important and partly determines what part of the precipitation flows into our reservoirs’, Hege explains.

In Norway, a distinction is made between “regulated” and “unregulated” hydropower. Regulated hydropower refers to hydropower plants with reservoirs. The electricity production is regulated by controlled outflow and the reservoir is kind of a green battery which supply can be regulated to meet electricity demand. Unregulated hydropower refers to turbines without a reservoir where river outflow is directly harnessed for electricity. Climate models indicate that climate change will result in changes in precipitation in Norway: more rainfall throughout the year and less snow accumulation in the winter. The overall effect will be that hydropower potential will spread out more evenly over the year. Unregulated hydropower potential, for instance, will increase in the winter season because river flow will increase when precipitation shifts from snow to rain. According to Christina Beisland, economist at NVE, this is positive from a business point of view: ‘Demand is highest in the winter. More river flow in the winter means we can produce more electricity when the price of electricity is highest.’ She stresses that investments may be needed to exploit the benefits of climate change. Investments in turbines, for instance. The other side of the picture is that climate change is expected to lead to more extreme weather as for example more lightening. Investments to make the hydropower infrastructure more resilient may also be needed.

What about changes in the price of electricity when supply increases? According to Per Sanderud, head of the NVE, more river inflow due to more rain will not necessarily dramatically reduce the price of electricity in Norway. ‘On the long-term the price of electricity by hydropower in Norway is fixed by other factors such as prices from coal and gas in Europe’, he added.

Both adjustments of the hydropower systems and changes in reservoir management are needed in the future to exploit the benefits of climate change. The adjustments to the systems may be based on projections of climate change. Changes in reservoir management on the other hand, can be made once the impact on climate change is manifest. Hege: ‘Reservoir management can change gradually in the course of time, in response to climate change. It will not become more complicated, it can just change, step by step.’

Photo: Statkraft (



Collaboration with Norway empowers Cuban scientists to help climate proof their nation


Based on a presentation by Juan-Carlos Antuna-Marrero (Cuban Meteorological Institute INSMET) and Michel dos Santos Mesquita (Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research) at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Bergen, Norway, August 2016.

By Dr. Wilfried B.M. ten Brinke, (Article was first published 19 September, 2016 on ) 

Since 2013 Cuban and Norwegian scientists successfully collaborate on research into extreme events under climate change in the Caribbean. Hurricanes that may become more devastating under climate change are a major concern for Cuba. The same holds for the impact of droughts and heat stress on agriculture and cattle breeding. Climate change is a major challenge for Cuba in the nation’s ambition to improve its food security. Today, Cuba imports 70-80% of its food, according to estimates of the World Food Programme.

How did this collaboration come about? ‘It all started when Cuban and Norwegian rescue-teams joined forces in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010’, Juan-Carlos Antuna-Marrero of the Cuban Meteorological Institute INSMET, clarifies. ‘This was the trigger for politicians on both sides to join forces in climate research’, he adds. In fact, the collaboration with Norway opened doors for Cuba to the international scientific community as well. The first scientific outcomes illustrate its success, such as a publication in the International Journal of Climatology co-published by Cuban, Norwegian and American scientists on warming trends in sea surface temperature in the Caribbean. This knowledge is important for all countries involved in this research. Warmer seawater favours the origin of strong hurricanes that threat Cuba and the United States and may end up as storms at the Norwegian coast bringing lots of precipitation there. Juan-Carlos: ‘This joint research helps Norwegian scientist to learn more about tropical meteorology. In return, Cuban climate scientists learn to create climate products that are relevant for robust preparedness to climate extremes and food security’.

Scientists from both countries aim to extend their collaboration. They submitted a new proposal to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs with a focus on food security. One of the questions they want to answer is whether crop diversification could help reduce Cuba’s needs to import food. Cuban agriculture can be made more resilient with respect to climate extremes. Michel dos Santos Mesquita of the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research sees opportunities to reach this. ‘By implementing adequate adaptation measures, farmers more quickly recover from hazards. We call this graceful failure as opposed to catastrophic failure. Catastrophic failure means that it takes years to recover from an extreme drought. Graceful failure means that the same drought also leads to harvest failure, but the nation recovers more quickly.’ Also with respect to Cuba’s livestock and pastures adaptation measures are needed in view of increased heat and water stress. And there are so many topics where Cuba can benefit from Norwegian knowledge and experience. Michel: ‘Examples are harvesting energy from waves, creating a more sustainable fishing industry, and introducing technology for desalination of seawater.

No wonder both Juan-Carlos and Michel are for continuing their collaboration. ‘Our collaboration must go beyond a one-time-good-will action, and should be a continuous process of creating and implementing adaptation measures’, Juan-Carlos concludes.

Photo: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (



Norway’s aquaculture needs more focus on long-term climate change


Based on a presentation by Grete Hovelsrud (Nord University) at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Bergen, Norway, August 2016.

By Dr. Wilfried B.M. ten Brinke, (Article was first published 21  September, 2016 on ) 

Salmon farming is an important industry in Norway. The annual revenue is 30 billion NOK and the industry offers 21,000 man-years of work. Salmon farming is part of a wider aquaculture industry. In potential, this industry may include future opportunities such as growing seaweed as an energy source and a replacement for soy as animal feed. Aquaculture is the second largest export industry in Norway, after petroleum (oil and gas). National policy aims to increase Norway’s aquaculture production 5-fold between now and 2050. Norway also aims for a transition to a green economy, in which the aquaculture industry may play a significant role. Is the sector sufficiently innovative and taking the right measures to reach these goals in the context of climate change?

The aquaculture industry depends on water quality and weather conditions in the fjords along the Norwegian coast. An increase of ocean temperatures and a higher frequency of extreme weather under climate change are believed to have the greatest impact. Also, ocean acidification and changing water salinity due to more freshwater inflow into the fjords may affect the industry in the long run.

The industry is very innovative’, states Grete Hovelsrud, professor at Nord University, ‘but climate change appears not to be on the radar of its managers’. According to Grete ‘traditional’ environmental issues and not so much the possible impacts of climate change mainly drive the industry’s innovations. Grete: ‘In the agendas of the managers climate change is hovering there somewhere.’ According to her the main theme that affects the industry is the fact that the water along the western part of the Norwegian coast is getting too warm for salmon. The industry has to move northward. Significantly higher summer temperatures in the fjords could increase the likelihood of disease outbreaks and propagation of microorganisms. Also, the problem of lice on salmon, which is an important concern today, may increase when water temperature rises.

According to Grete adapting to the consequences of climate change doesn’t have to be a problem. The adaptive capacity of the Norwegian aquaculture industry is strong. The sector is exposed to highly variable weather, for instance, and is used to cope with this. The sector is innovative and financially strong. According to her the sector’s management may underestimate the consequences of climate change, however, and may not adapt fast enough to fully exploit the possibilities Norwegian coastal waters offer. The latter is important in view of Norway’s national policy aims of a 5-fold production increase between now and 2050, and the transition to a green economy. Grete: ‘Climate change will enable a significant increase in production of the aquaculture industry. More focus on how to adapt to the consequences of climate change may strengthen the capacity of the industry to exploit the benefits climate change can offer’.

Photo: Alex Berger (



What do climate service users need and what can they get?


Presented by Erik Kolstad (Uni Research Climate & Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research) at the 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change Adaptation in Bergen, Norway, August 2016.

By Dr. Wilfried B.M. ten Brinke, (Article was first published  22  September, 2016 on ) 

The awareness has grown that we need to adapt to the changing climate now and in the future. What changes are to be expected? To what extent do we have to adapt? What measures are needed, and what needs to be done now? These are the questions authorities, businesses and even citizens struggle with. They look at the scientific community for answers. Indeed, scientists have a lot to offer. How can we arrange that the latest scientific knowledge becomes available to all of those looking for answers? By developing climate services with tailor-made information. This way, research communities reach out to those who have to adapt. Kind of bridging supply and demand. That’s quite a challenge for the research communities. It calls for close communication with the end-users of their products. And sometimes demands just can’t be met.

Erik Kolstad is one of those scientists reaching out to end-users and trying to present them the tailor-made information they look for. He works as a meteorologist in Western Norway where the geography is characterized by steep mountains and fjords. Because of this geography the impact of climate change on, for instance, rainfall strongly varies from one place to another. This information is only relevant to users if you can deliver it a very high resolution. The kind of modelling that is needed for that is very expensive, however. You have to find an optimum where you deliver adequate information to answer questions at reasonable costs. This calls for frequent communication between researchers and users. ‘This is a novelty for us’, Erik says, ‘and some of the reactions of the users of our products came as a surprise.’

Erik had expected a pro-active response from users of his climate services. He expected questions from the agriculture sector on the length of the growing season in coming decades. He expected the road maintenance authority to ask him about the increase of the number of zero degree crossings in the winter, because this determines the extent of damage to the roads. Strangely enough, they didn’t come. ‘We almost have to force the users to come to us with what they need. Apparently, they don’t come to climate scientists themselves’, Erik concludes. From his contacts he came to realize that users have to make choices in their overfull agendas, and climate change is long-term and doesn’t get top priority. Erik: ‘In a way you might say that a sense of urgency is lacking, day to day problems are considered more urgent.’

This sense of urgency may increase rapidly, however, if an extreme event strikes. In 2005 landslides near Bergen caused casualties. Since then, the importance of climate services to control these hazards is high on the agenda of the municipality of Bergen. But these kinds of triggers that create a sense of urgency do not easily develop for sectors where climate change impacts manifest more slowly, in a creeping way, such as forestry and agriculture. Erik: ‘These sectors do not realize what is happening due to climate change, they do not think about longer-term effects. Besides, they sometimes don’t know what scientists can offer.’

From his experience Erik has learned that scientists need to reach out actively to users, start the dialogue to make them see what information they need to adapt to the (possible) consequences of climate change. This dialogue is the starting point to bridge the gap between supply and demand. Erik: ‘Websites with information are not enough. Users need someone to talk to, a personal, active approach.’



Learning from best practise: The Copenhagen Adaptation Example

Bicycle rush hour in Copenhagen. Photo_ Mikael Colville-Andersen via Wikimedia Commons

By: Gudrun Sylte  (Article was first published on 

The Danish capital is combining growth and development with reduction of CO2-emissions, aiming to become the first carbon neutral capital in the world. The Copenhagen project director Jørgen Abildgaard is visiting Bergen and the 4th Nordic conference for Climate Change Adaptation in August.

The city of Copenhagen has set an ambitious goal to be the first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. A city council plan towards a zero-carbon future was approved already in April 2012.

According to Jørgen Abildgaard, the Director of the Copenhagen 2025 Climate Plan, the latest CO2 accounts show that emissions in 2015 were at 1.45 million tonnes of CO2. This is a reduction of 38 per cent compared to 2005, and a reduction of 12 percentage points compared to 2014.

“As a capital, Copenhagen can and must take its share of the responsibility for climate change. At the same time we must show that it is possible to combine growth, development and increased quality of life with the reduction of CO2 emissions, so that by 2025 we will be able to call ourselves the first carbon neutral capital in the world. To reach this target, new solutions must be invented along the way. These solutions can only be developed in close cooperation with skilled partners from industries, research institutions and the Copenhageners, who use the city every day”, Abildgaard writes in an email to the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research.

Learning from best practices

The 4th Nordic Conference on Climate Change adaptation brings together practitioners and researchers on climate adaptation, in a Nordic perspective. On the list of interesting speakers are leading politicians from Government, City and leaders of the main institutions involved in climate adaptation

”We are in a hurry to form more resilient and less carbon depended societies, raising the need for both nation- and context-specific research as well as learning from best practices. The Nordic countries, with their common economic and social policies, as well as cultural heritage, are facing many of the same challenges. This points to joint solutions, justifying the relevance of the conference on the Nordic level”, Tore Furevik, Director of the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research says.

A collection of goals and 

Jørgen Abildgaard lists up four areas where the Copenhagen 2025 Climate Plan gathers specific goals and initiatives: Energy Consumption, energy production, green mobility and the city administration. These goals and initiatives must be set in motion for Copenhagen to achieve their ambition to become the worlds first carbon neutral city.

”Some of the initiatives include retrofitting existing buildings to increase their energy performance, increasing the renewable energy targets by adding 100 MW of wind power, using biomass instead of fossil fuels for the production of energy, focusing on increasing trips taken by bike and making public transportation CO2 neutral”, mr. Abildgaard writes.

On the example of Copenhagen 2025 Climate Plan, a great deal of specific goals and initiatives are set to life. You can download the plan here – in english // in danish

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