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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 16, 2007
Press Briefing Via Conference Call by Senior Administration Officials on IPCC Report
Jim Connaughton, Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality
Dr. Sharon Hays, U.S. Delegation At IPCC Meeting
Dr. Harlan Watson, Senior Climate Negotiator, Department of State
5:07 P.M. EST
DR. HAYS: Welcome, everyone, from Valencia, Spain, where the hour is late, as Kristin said. We are here to talk about the IPCC's -- and that's the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- Fourth Assessment Report, which was finalized a little bit earlier this evening, about a half an hour ago or so.
Harlan and I and the rest of the U.S. delegation have spent the last five days and couple of nights negotiating the final version of the Synthesis Report, which is the fourth and final piece of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report, while we've been here in Valencia.
As many of you have the background from the IPCC, it's made up of member countries -- it's a U.N. body. And every six years or so the IPCC comes out with a new assessment report, which is a pretty massive compilation written by scientists that describes the current status of climate change science. And the assessment is produced in parts, and the Synthesis Report, as I said just a moment ago, is the last piece.
Now, you're probably aware of the three earlier reports that have already been released in final form, in February, April, and then this last summer. Those three reports focused on different aspects of climate change science, and that were, just briefly -- the first one was on sort of the physical basis for climate change: Is it happening? Why is it happening? What are projections for future changes to the climate system?
The second report, which was negotiated in Brussels, was on the impacts of climate change, as well as adaptation to it. And the third report, which was negotiated in Bangkok this summer, focuses on mitigation options.
So, as you also may recall, each of these reports get produced in two major parts. And so, the first part is a very large -- on the order of a thousand or even more pages -- technical document that's written by scientists, and presented by them to governments for acceptance, in IPCC parlance. And the second piece is a summary for policymakers, which is also written by scientists, but is approved by governments after a line-by-line review process, and that makes up the negotiation, like the one that we've just been working on.
So today's report is very similar in that there is a summary for policymakers, that we worked on most of the week, ending with a 24-hour marathon negotiation that lasted until earlier this morning and then picked up again later in the morning. And there's also, with this report, in addition to the summary for policymakers, or SPM, there is an underlying report. It's not quite as big as those earlier three reports; it's a much, much smaller underlying report.
So this report is a little bit different -- the Synthesis Report is a little bit different from the first three, in that it's a synthesis. In other words, it's an attempt to bring together information and concepts from the three earlier reports and put them together. That being said, there isn't anything new here from a science perspective. The only thing that's new is the attempt to synthesize.
Now, the synthesis itself is a fairly difficult task, in that the amount of information in the three underlying reports is very large, very complex, and the very process of synthesis involves interpretation, and that, in itself, adds an additional element of complexity, I think. On top of that, of course, you have the IPCC process, with which -- I really want to emphasize this -- the U.S. is very, very pleased to be a part of -- but that body is complex in and of itself, in that many nations and thus many perspectives are represented.
So it's been a long week, but we have a completed report that will be released tomorrow morning -- hence the embargo. And before I talk a little bit about what's in the report, I think it's really important to recognize -- I really want to point to the achievement that's marked by the completion of this report. It's worked on by scientists all over the world, and it's had tremendous support from the U.S. in making it happen.
So a couple different elements to that that I think are worth noting. First of all, U.S. government funding for climate change science is a major part of the science -- the scientific results and scientific studies that underlie the entire Fourth Assessment, all three reports that preceded the Synthesis Report. And that's a significant investment. I think it's on the order of $12 billion since 2001 in climate change science that's funded by the U.S. federal government.
The other element is the work of the many, many U.S. scientists who authored chapters of the report or reviewed chapters in these reports, or were co-authors on the overall reports themselves. So many, many U.S. scientists have been involved in actually writing this report.
We also have Susan Solomon, who is a U.S. government scientist at NOAA, Department of Commerce, who very, very ably led the working group one part of the Fourth Assessment Report. She's a noted scientist, and did a tremendous job in helping to produce that first working group report. And then finally, of course, we have a delegation here that's made up of experts from a number of different agencies all across the government, and we've been involved in this final step in the process, which is the negotiation of the summary for policymakers.
So very briefly, in terms of what's in the report, it's organized in somewhat similar ways to the organization of the first three underlying reports in that there is discussion of what's happening in the climate system. And this is -- reiterates things that were in the first working group report about changes in the climate system being unequivocal, but it being very likely that humans are responsible, through greenhouse gas production, for a good deal of the warming of the last 50 or so years. And it also makes future projections about the climate system -- in other words, in terms of temperature, sea-level rise, that sort of thing.
Another large chunk of the report is focused on related impacts of those changes to ecosystems, to human systems, et cetera, both in terms of what's happening now, changes that we've observed in nature that demonstrate that climate change is occurring and is having impacts, but also in terms of what we may be able to expect in the future in terms of impacts.
And then finally, there are a couple of sections that discuss how we can apply both adaptation and mitigation to lessen the effects of the impacts that are being experienced now and that we expect in the future.
So I think with that, I will go ahead and turn it back to Kristin or to the operator, I guess, to moderate the Q&A.
Q Hello, my question is about looking forward towards the Bali conference. Paula Dobriansky was testifying at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and a lot of the senators, including Republicans, were very critical of the U.S. administration's policy on climate change, and they were -- Senator John Kerry said he was even going to go to Bali with Senator Barbara Boxer. I'm just wondering how the panel feels about this -- the fact that there will be two rival U.S. conferences in Bali giving different policy positions.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: This is Jim Connaughton, Chairman of CEQ. We bring a full delegation to these meetings and we welcome the attendance of all the relevant political and NGO actors. There will be industry there, as well, and there will be a lot of environmental groups, as well. So that's on that particular point. How do we feel about it? They're a welcome part of our open and democratic process.
In terms of the representations about policy, it is a bit intriguing because I think at this point, the administration and the centers you described are generally strongly in support of strong measures on vehicle fuel economy, strongly supportive of finding alternatives to petroleum. I think in my own conversations with Senator Boxer, we've been working very effectively and aggressively together on efficiency, especially in federal government facilities. And at least as I am aware of their policy positions, they have strongly backed the tens of billions of dollars of new incentives we have for clean energy technology, especially renewable energy technologies that were part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
So you've made a blanket assertion which I think is not backed up by the underlying realities.
Q I apologize for starting off with logistics, but because the IPCC has approved of this draft today and copies of the draft are available, I think the wires and a lot of the media are going to be writing stories tonight. My question is, is there any way that we can use some of these comments in the stories which will be written tonight for tomorrow's paper? Otherwise, we go to press with reports that don't reflect the comments that you folks have to make.
DR. HAYS: Doug, I understand your concern, but we do have to uphold the embargo and the rules that the IPCC lays forth for all of the countries. So, unfortunately, if they don't lift the embargo any sooner, we can't -- we're not allowed to speak to the press until they have issued that report. So, unfortunately, we can't.
Q Okay. Well, I would like to ask for after the embargo, then. We obviously got reports that during this last week, the United States was trying to downplay the benefits of mandatory controls and the accomplishments of the Kyoto Protocol that was language in the draft. Can you explain -- and it appears that the panel has largely rejected that. Do you care to comment on that?
DR. HAYS: Look, this issue comes up, I think, with every single report that we've done, and I think you need -- you only need to look at the final report and keep a couple of things in mind, I think, on this. So, first of all, the scientist authors of the report are in the room when the governments are undertaking these negotiations, and the role that they play in the negotiation -- even though they aren't represented as a delegation there -- is very important. And I think all governments -- certainly ours -- gives a lot of deference to the scientist authors, in terms of their opinions on various points that we're discussing.
Our position, the U.S. position, going into each of these meetings, has been a very simple one, and that is to make sure that we get the science right. We think it's very important that these reports reflect, in a very rigorous way, the science that these scientists who write the underlying reports have told us about. They are the ones that write these large technical documents. And the goal of the summary for policymakers is really just to provide, in a very abbreviated fashion, useful information to policymakers. But that information comes from those underlying reports, which the scientists themselves write.
So in these negotiations, it is true that we ask lots of questions, and we engage in an energetic discussion with other delegations and with the scientist authors. But ultimately, like I said, our goal is to get the science right, and when the scientists have an opinion on that, we listen to it very, very carefully.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: This is Jim Connaughton. I would like to speak to the substance of the question. I'm not aware, first, that the document will at all mention Bush administration policy. So the assertion it is a rejection of policy is wrong.
Secondly, to the extent it is about mandatory measures, that representation is an inaccurate representation of the Bush administration policy. President Bush has backed mandatory fuel economy requirements. President Bush has backed mandatory renewable fuel requirements. President Bush has backed a whole new suite of mandatory appliance efficiency requirements at the federal level. President Bush has supported the Department of Energy's work with the states, who currently have legal authority to set renewable power requirements; the federal government does not have that authority, but the states do -- and we have assisted them with that. And then finally the states have the authority on building codes, and our Department of Energy has been working with the states to update their building codes to achieve more efficiency in new and retro-fit buildings.
So in the major activities that give rise to CO2 emissions, we have backed sensible, mandatory programs that are predicated on the availability of technology to achieve them.
We have also, though, found great power in incentive-based programs and in partnerships. And so it would be false to assert that -- the assertion about the President's position on mandatory programs is a false one. So you probably need to re-craft your predicate. Thank you.
Q Yes, good evening, hello. I have two questions. One of them relates to the carbon price, and the other relates to key vulnerabilities. The first question about the carbon price is, it seems that in the early draft, at least, there was language recommending a specific carbon price of $20 to $80 a ton by 2030. Is that language still in there, and does that language effectively recommend some kind of carbon taxing? That's the first question.
The second question is, I wanted a summary of the way the key -- how much detail was given on the key vulnerabilities in the report, particularly on the question of extinctions.
DR. HAYS: Can you repeat that last one?
Q Some detail about the key vulnerabilities, how they're described in the report, particularly on the question of extinctions.
DR. HAYS: Okay, Harlan, why don't you go ahead with the first question.
DR. WATSON: With regard to the carbon prices, what this was was a survey of the literature. And what it is, the models show how the different so-called -- it basically had to do with different stabilization levels, and how the economy would respond to different levels of carbon price. So it was basically -- once again, what is the literature the models show, given the different carbon prices that they assumed in there; how does the economy respond, again, given a wide range of assumptions on technology, population, economic growth, et cetera.
So it doesn't recommend anything; it just, again, says what it is this range of literature says. And basically that's survived, that was in essentially the same language that's in the working group three summary for policymakers. And I'll defer to Sharon on the key vulnerabilities.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Just one more word on carbon price. I think the document describes a variety of different policies that affect the pricing of carbon, ranging from taxes and fees, emissions trading systems to incentives. So in America we do have that full complement. We have -- the market itself has imposed a dramatic price, if you look at the rise of the price of gasoline and the rise of coal and natural gas in America. We've had a huge lift in the price of those. But at the same time, we have incentives that have implicit carbon prices in them that range from a relatively low number to actually quite high numbers. For example, our incentives for solar, in terms of how much we pay the incentive versus the carbon reduction you get from that.
And then finally, in the mandatory programs, the price, the cost of compliance with the new fuel economy standards and the new alternative fuel standards, for example, especially with the President's new proposal that he announced in the State of the Union that we are now issuing regulations on shortly. I mean, it's in the many, many billions of dollars. And so when we go final with those proposals, you'll have an economic analysis of the cost as it relates to the CO2 reductions associated with those. So it's a broad set of ways in which carbon pricing finds its way into the market.
DR. HAYS: Okay, thanks, Harlan and Jim.
On the key vulnerabilities question, key vulnerabilities is something that came out of the second working group report, and it is really a way of -- I guess the scientists would describe it as a way of starting to think about some of the issues that come up under the framework convention, in terms of what level of carbon to stabilize that, and how we determine what the appropriate level is by looking at setting up this construct of key vulnerabilities.
And so that concept really sort of took shape in the second working group report, and hasn't had -- it's definitely something that I think is worth the scientific community exploring more. So it was really introduced in that second working group report, and we think that it's probably a very useful way of trying to apply science to these very difficult and ultimately value-laden judgments about what level is the right level of stabilization, but nevertheless, I think a useful construct.
Q Can you give us what the key vulnerabilities are specified that have made it into the final report?
DR. HAYS: You know, the key vulnerabilities come up under this section that's called Reasons For Concern, which is another -- that construct actually came out of the third assessment report. And so, I'm really not prepared to give you exact examples right now; I don't have the final report in front of me. But the Reasons For Concern is -- there's five different ones, including irreversible events, vulnerable populations, that sort of thing. So the key vulnerabilities are things that can sort of fit under, or fit within, this framework of reasons for concern that was introduced in the last assessment.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: And they're detailed in the underlying work that was done earlier this year, so if you pull that up, the list is there for any -- it's already been reviewed and described. You shouldn't expect a different list this time around.
Q I'd like to ask, looking back over the past week, what was the most important change that the U.S. delegation sought in the language, and for which you feel there was a satisfactory outcome?
DR. HAYS: It's a complex report with a lot of different pieces, so it's a little tricky to sort of focus on just one thing. I mean, like I said, our goal going into these things is to make sure that the final report matches the science. I will say one issue that we thought was very important to address in the report, earlier this week, was on the issue of tropical cyclones. And that's an issue where there is tremendous debate in the scientific community in terms of the impact that rising sea surface temperatures as a result of climate change are happening on tropical storm intensity.
We did work with the authors and with the other delegations to make sure that the current state of the science there, which, like I said, is in a state of flux right now, was represented. We feel that it is in the final report.
Q And do you mean that it was -- had been overstated, you thought, originally?
DR. HAYS: In the first working group report we spent a lot of time on the issue, and developed a very balanced representation of that current scientific debate. And so what we think we did with this Synthesis Report was bring that same balance to it.
Q My question is, recently Congressman Rick Boucher has suggested after conversations with you, Jim, and also Al Hubbard that the President would sign a mandatory cap and trade piece of legislation. Boucher said, "These conversations have been very constructive, and they lead me to believe that at the end of the day, if we produce legislation that meets the standards I've described" -- which he said would be friendly to industry -- "that in fact that bill would be signed into law." Jim, would you comment on that?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: We don't have any legislation to comment on yet, so I can't make one. I would note that we've had very constructive discussions with Congressman Boucher, also with Chairman Dingell. I've had very constructive discussions with Senator Boxer, as well, on the Senate side, on the wide range of policies, not just limited to the one you described.
The President has called -- clearly there's a piece that's pending and ready to go, and that's the fuel economy piece and the alternative fuels piece. The President called for that more than 10 months ago. And there's a lot of public support for it. So there's a piece of legislation that could occur right away, and we're looking forward to -- and has real climate benefits. The various cap and trade legislations are still stirring their way through the Congress. So I think as those evolve, we'll continue to provide input, and we'll see what the Congress can produce.
Q And then a follow-up to that is, does the IPCC Synthesis Report change in any way the U.S. position going into Bali with respect to the calling for a Bali road map and then a post-Kyoto framework by 2009?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: It reinforces the President's strong commitment to that that he articulated earlier this year, worked on with the G8 leaders, and then reinforced in his speech before the Major Economies meeting at the end of September.
In terms of change, remember, this is based a lot on U.S. science and the contribution of U.N./U.S. scientists. So we well know the science going into these summaries. And then this final summary is the summary of all the prior summaries. So in terms of change, the answer is, it shouldn't be a change; it's a further reinforcement.
Q For those of us who are somewhat new to the environmental beat, could you walk us through the Bush administration's stance on whether or not human activity is responsible for climate change, and just when you came to that position?
DR. HAYS: I'm glad you asked the question, because there's a lot of misconceptions out there about the administration's position on this. The President gave a speech back in 2001, I believe it was, in which he articulated his thoughts on climate change science. And when he made that speech, he echoed very clearly what the National Academies of Science was saying about climate change and the human attribution issue, which was, at that time, six years ago, less clear than it is now. And so his words echoed the National Academies of Sciences, which, in turn, were really a restatement of what appeared in the last assessment, the 2001 IPCC assessment on climate change. So the President has been saying the same thing as what the scientists have been saying about climate change, whether or not humans are playing a role in it, since 2001. More recently, the President made a speech at the Major Economies meeting that he convened where, again, he cited the IPCC directly in articulating the administration's view on climate change science. So it is and has been absolutely in sync with the what the science is saying.
Q So, in other words, he now thinks or is in line with the fact that human activity is responsible for climate change?
DR. HAYS: What's changed since 2001 is the scientific certainty that this is happening. So back in 2001, the IPCC report said that it was likely that humans were having an impact on the climate. And "likely" has a very specific meaning in IPCC reports. It means that scientists think it's about 66 percent, or two-thirds, likely to be true. In the more recent report, the one that came out in February of this year, the IPCC said that it was very likely that humans were having an impact on the climate. And that, again, has a very specific meaning, meaning 90 percent likely.
So, like I said, the President's remarks have tracked very closely with what the scientists have been saying.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: And I wish to be -- I want to be one step more specific, though, because you said the President now -- I really want to underline -- in 2001, the President clearly acknowledged what the National Academy of Science told him: that surface temperatures of the Earth are warming, and humans are part of that equation. Now, they're very different -- there's different formulations of that over time; different scientists say it differently. But that's sort of the simple conclusion, and he's been consistent in that view since.
That has been reinforced by the advance of the science, as Sharon described, but it was an understanding the President had based on his consultation with scientists going back to 2001. It's probably the single most mischaracterized aspect to the President's views on climate change.
Q Thank you for doing this. Could you clarify for me the administration's position on what constitutes dangerous climate change? I mean, my question stems from a story in the Post more than a month ago, involving John Marburger, who subsequently wrote a letter to the Post saying that -- I don't have the exact quote here, but it's to the effect that dangerous climate change involves some value judgments that go beyond what science can determine. As you know, the -- a number of scientists, the European Union, and others have concluded that a two degree Centigrade increase is the most that can safely be allowed, if you will, to avoid dangerous climate change. What is dangerous climate change from the perspective of the White House, Jim? Can you clarify this for us?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: We don't have a view on that. The scientific community has offered a wide range of perspectives in these documents. We are operating consistent with the G8 leaders' consensus that the issue warrants urgent action, and we need to bring forward, in a more accelerated way, the technology that will make a lasting solution possible. So we're operating within that construct. The scientific definition of that is lacking, and so we are operating within the construct of, again, strong agreement among world leaders that urgent action is warranted.
DR. HAYS: Let me -- this is Sharon -- let me go to what I think is an assumption in your question that I want to take up; that in terms of there being a value judgment associated with what determines whether or not a certain degree of climate change is dangerous or not. That's not just Dr. Marburger's opinion. That is clearly stated in framework convention language. It's been reiterated by the National Academies; when they looked at the last IPCC report, in fact, they stated very clearly that there are value judgments that have to be made in determining what is dangerous anthropogenic climate change. So the science simply can't tell us what that number is. There are always going to be value judgments associated with it.
DR. WATSON: You might just also reiterate, Sharon, that this is also the conclusion of the Fourth Assessment Report.
DR. HAYS: That's right, that's right. And it's very clearly stated.
Q So where then does this figure of 450 parts per million, or I think some groups have said 550 parts per million -- why is that seen as a benchmark above which it would be imprudent, if not dangerous, to go?
DR. WATSON: That is a -- yes, that is a political judgment, as it's been made, Chris. It's their interpretation --
Q So the 450 has no connection with science whatsoever?
DR. WATSON: The science gives you a range of potential impact based upon modeling studies. What actually -- it ends up being a political decision, which, for example, you made, as you know, some 10 years ago. That was in their political judgment. But it is a value judgment.
Q All right, thank you. This Synthesis Report has been billed this week as driving the process against climate change, onto Bali and beyond. Expectations seem to have been raised quite a lot by it. I'd like, if you would, to tell us what specifically in the Synthesis Report and what you've been doing this week would support someone feeling that the process will get new impetus from this.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: Let me take this to the high level. This reinforces impetus that actually began much earlier this year through a whole series of bilateral -- U.S. with other countries, other countries with other countries, and then with the G8 leaders meeting, and then with the APEC leaders meeting. So throughout this year, at the leader level, this issue and the need to drive toward a new agreement for after Kyoto expires in 2012 has carried us through the year, and the underlying technical reports that emerge in the spring fed into those leader commitments. And so this is the culmination of the underlying science that has reinforced those leader commitments.
We are also in the middle of the culmination, if you will, of sort of the underlying sort of technology need that underlines those commitments, which is not something that is much discussed, and that relates to how you produce power with lower carbon emissions, and the technologies we need to bring forward to produce -- to move cars around on the road with lower carbon emissions, and how to deal with deforestation. So you sort of put the science with the urgency of the need to develop technology at a faster rate, with the political will. And those pieces all carry into Bali.
DR. HAYS: The other thing I'll just mention is that the timing of the entire Fourth Assessment, which has been going on all year, basically, was meant to -- it was meant to culminate with this Synthesis Report before the next meeting, Bali meeting, basically. And that makes sense. I mean, IPCC reports are meant to inform policy; they're not meant to be policy prescriptive. But that timing was considered by the U.N. Framework Convention.
In terms of what's in the Synthesis Report, the science is the same science that's been in the three underlying reports.
Q Sorry, can I just follow up by asking, do you think that people's expectations, if they've been raised, could be disappointed?
DR. HAYS: I think Jim hit on that when he pointed out that it's not so much this report. I mean, people have expectations based on many other things, and there's been a lot of international activity on this issue.
Q I have a question for Jim Connaughton and Harlan Watson. I just was wondering, what is your best-case scenario for the outcome for the Bali discussions? What's the best -- what's the most you expect from those? What's the measuring stick you're using here?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: The President made clear what he'd like to see when he gave a speech at the Major Economies meeting. We would like to see negotiations advance, starting in Bali. We would like to see the road map for those negotiations established. We would like to be sure that it includes some key elements -- so elements related to mitigation and action in particular sectors; element related to adaptation; and element related to getting a group going on technology advancement and transfer, and technology sharing -- and then have a broad discussion on financing, sort of broader than where it's been, so we also have a full accounting of the available avenues of private sector financing for new clean technologies.
I guess I'll give you one more wonky one: Moving forward with getting the measurement system harmonized and up to date among all the countries, because we have different accounting systems.
The reason I give you this detail -- you say what's the best case -- we'd like to see all of those elements, and it appears that there's a good likelihood that that -- those will all be parts of an outcome in Bali, in terms of the agenda for future negotiations. Now, you're not going to get substantive agreement yet; this will be the agenda for the negotiations.
DR. WATSON: I want to reemphasize that Bali is a starting point, not the conclusion. Again, we're all focused on 2009 end date of the Bali road map, but, again, these are the elements. We actually, in the conversations we had, we think there's a broad consensus around these elements. It's just a matter of coming up with the right wording to get it done, and we're very confident it's going to happen.
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: And that's where -- we have high confidence that negotiations will be advanced -- that will be good. And that's why -- you asked for the best case -- the best case would be an agenda that includes the several elements that I just described for you. And it looks like there's a lot of agreement around those components.
Q Just to follow up on that, you're saying in terms of negotiations advancing, what would -- how would we measure, say, advancement on the subject of adaptation? What's the measuring stick we use to see whether we've come to a good start on that issue?
CHAIRMAN CONNAUGHTON: A term that's being used -- and Harlan, fill in -- is building blocks. And so if part of the negotiating agenda includes a group activity to develop that agenda for adaptation, that's how you could -- how you'd look at it. We hope that it is a broad agenda, because adaptation has many features, and sometimes we tend to narrow in on one or two. And so if you're looking for a benchmark there, I would encourage you to look for a broad agenda on adaptation, as opposed to a narrow focus.
DR. WATSON: Yes, as you know, work has started on adaptation over the last couple of years. There's great interest, particularly among developing countries, again, I think, as Jim said, to broaden the agenda. And that's certainly where we are. And we would look forward to doing that. There's often a focus in these just on money. But there's many, many other elements of adaptation other than just the funding aspect. I think many developing countries are interested in that, as are we. So, again, as Jim said, a broadening of the discussion beyond the narrow focus it's had so far would be one measure of success here.
Q Thank you.
MS. SCUDERI: Okay, that's all we have time for, so I'd just like to thank everyone for joining the call.
END 5:48 P.M. EST