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Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Out of the more than 3,000 pages in Monday's landmark climate report, one word stood out: "unequivocal."

What they're saying: "It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land," the report stated.

  • This is how solid the tie is between a warming planet and human emissions of greenhouse gases, scientists and government representatives agreed.

Why it matters: It's the strongest description the U.N. IPCC has used to attribute climate change to human activities, but it's far from the first time the word has been used in its reports.

  • Looking over time at the panel's past assessments sheds light on just how much of a departure the latest one is.

Context: The use of the word in Monday's report is part of a pattern of IPCC language used in its "Summary for Policymakers" sections that date to its first assessment report, issued in 1990.

  • Along with a series of remarkably prescient climate projections through 2030, that 1990 report stated: "The unequivocal detection of the enhanced greenhouse effect from observations is not likely for a decade or more."
  • Jump ahead to 1995, when the IPCC came out with what was then a bombshell finding, stating: "The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate."

Be smart: That demonstrated the high stakes associated with individual word choices in these summaries.

Between the lines: Next, fast-forward to the IPCC's fourth assessment in 2007. By then, the science had advanced sufficiently — as had global warming's effects, for the panel to state: "Warming of the climate system is unequivocal." However, it didn't attribute that warming to human emissions of greenhouse gases in such strong terms.

  • Before Monday's report, the most recent full IPCC assessment of climate change was in 2013. That report expressed climate attribution in more confident language than prior assessments, but still not with the same impact:
  • "It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century," the report stated.

The big picture: The IPCC's evolution on these statements is slow and methodical, in part because consensus-based science is inherently somewhat conservative.

  • Also, the IPCC is unique in that scientists and governments together approve the summaries word by word, since they get the most attention from the media and world leaders.

The bottom line: There is actually an even stronger attribution statement in Monday's report, hidden in the technical summary but noticed by the AP's Seth Borenstein.

  • It states that the "Human influence on the climate system is now an established fact." It also describes the human influence on extreme weather and climate events as an "established fact."
  • Case closed.

Go deeper

Definition of success at UN Climate Summit is in flux

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The UN Climate Summit in Glasgow is less than 20 days away, and diplomats have entered a crucial period when expectations are raised or lowered to guard against any blowback that might come from a particular outcome.

Driving the news: Officials in the U.S. and abroad are sending clear signals that the odds that COP26 will meet some of its most important goals are diminishing, for a variety of reasons both macro and micro in scale.

Oct 12, 2021 - Science

Weather and climate disasters have cost the U.S. over $100 billion in 2021

Piles of debris is all that's left of a restaurant after heavy rain from remnants of Hurricane Ida came through in Manville, New Jersey, on Sept. 7. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Weather and climate disasters in 2021 have killed 538 people in the U.S. and cost over $100 billion, according to a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Why it matters: The first nine months of 2021 saw the largest number of billion-dollar disasters in a calendar year so far, with 2021 on pace for second behind 2020, per the report.

U.S. elected to rejoin UN Human Rights Council after exit under Trump

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. has been elected to rejoin on the UN Human Rights Council, the State Department announced Thursday, three years after former President Trump walked out on the panel citing bias against Israel.

Flashback: The Biden administration announced in February it planned to rejoin the council, acknowledging what it called an "unacceptable bias against Israel," but arguing that being a member would help the U.S. advance its own interests.

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