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The contribution of China’s emissions to global climate forcing

Nature 531, 357–361 (17 March 2016)

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Bengang Li, Thomas Gasser, Philippe Ciais, Shilong Piao, Shu Tao, Yves Balkanski, Didier Hauglustaine, Juan-Pablo Boisier, Zhuo Chen, Mengtian Huang, Laurent Zhaoxin Li, Yue Li, Hongyan Liu, Junfeng Liu, Shushi Peng, Zehao Shen, Zhenzhong Sun, Rong Wang, Tao Wang, Guodong Yin, Yi Yin, Hui Zeng, Zhenzhong Zeng & Feng Zhou

Nature 531, 357–361 (17 March 2016) doi:10.1038/nature17165


Knowledge of the contribution that individual countries have made to global radiative forcing is important to the implementation of the agreement on “common but differentiated responsibilities” reached by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Over the past three decades, China has experienced rapid economic development1, accompanied by increased emission of greenhouse gases, ozone precursors and aerosols2, 3, but the magnitude of the associated radiative forcing has remained unclear. Here we use a global coupled biogeochemistry–climate model4, 5 and a chemistry and transport model6 to quantify China’s present-day contribution to global radiative forcing due to well-mixed greenhouse gases, short-lived atmospheric climate forcers and land-use-induced regional surface albedo changes. We find that China contributes 10% ?± ?4% of the current global radiative forcing. China’s relative contribution to the positive (warming) component of global radiative forcing, mainly induced by well-mixed greenhouse gases and black carbon aerosols, is 12% ?± ?2%. Its relative contribution to the negative (cooling) component is 15% ?± ?6%, dominated by the effect of sulfate and nitrate aerosols. China’s strongest contributions are 0.16 ?± ?0.02 watts per square metre for CO2 from fossil fuel burning, 0.13 ?± ?0.05 watts per square metre for CH4, ?0.11 ?± ?0.05 watts per square metre for sulfate aerosols, and 0.09 ?± ?0.06 watts per square metre for black carbon aerosols. China’s eventual goal of improving air quality will result in changes in radiative forcing in the coming years : a reduction of sulfur dioxide emissions would drive a faster future warming, unless offset by larger reductions of radiative forcing from well-mixed greenhouse gases and black carbon.

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