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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We thank M. Schulz for help with Supplementary Fig. 7, and H. Yu for sharing data from ref. 24. This study is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant numbers 41371443, 41390240) and the 111 project (grant number B14001). It is also part of the ACACCYA project funded by the GIS Climat-Environnement-Société. T.G. is supported by the European Research Council Synergy grant ERC-2013-SyG-610028 IMBALANCE-P.

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  1. Sino-French Institute for Earth System Science, Laboratory for Earth Surface Processes, College of Urban and Environmental Sciences, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Bengang Li
    • , Shilong Piao
    • , Shu Tao
    • , Zhuo Chen
    • , Mengtian Huang
    • , Yue Li
    • , Hongyan Liu
    • , Junfeng Liu
    • , Shushi Peng
    • , Zehao Shen
    • , Zhenzhong Sun
    • , Guodong Yin
    • , Hui Zeng
    • , Zhenzhong Zeng
    •  & Feng Zhou
  2. Jiangsu Center for Collaborative Innovation in Geographical Information Resource Development and Application, Nanjing, 210023, China

    • Bengang Li
  3. Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l’Environnement, CEA-CNRS-UVSQ, 91191 Gif-sur-Yvette, France

    • Thomas Gasser
    • , Philippe Ciais
    • , Yves Balkanski
    • , Didier Hauglustaine
    • , Juan-Pablo Boisier
    • , Rong Wang
    • , Tao Wang
    •  & Yi Yin
  4. Centre International de Recherche en Environnement et Développement, CNRS-PontsParisTech-EHESS-AgroParisTech-CIRAD, 94736 Nogent-sur-Marne, France

    • Thomas Gasser
  5. Key Laboratory of Alpine Ecology and Biodiversity, Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Center for Excellence in Tibetan Earth Science, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, China

    • Shilong Piao
  6. Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique, CNRS, Université Pierre et Marie Curie—Paris 6, 75252 Paris, France

    • Laurent Zhaoxin Li


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B.L., T.G., P.C., S. Piao and S.T. designed the study. Simulations and output analysis were performed by T.G. for OSCAR and the overall integration; by D.H., R.W. and Y.B. for LMDz-INCA; by J.-P.B. and L.Z.L. for LUC albedo reconstructions; by Y.B. for black carbon albedo; by Z.C. and Y.B. for secondary organic aerosols; and by B.L., T.G., D.H. and R.W. for model evaluation. B.L., S. Peng, Y.Y. and F.Z. provided additional data and analysis. Writing was led by B.L., with substantial inputs from T.G., P.C., S. Piao, S.T., Y.B., D.H. and R.W. All authors participated in the study, the interpretation of the results, and the outline of the paper, through regular meetings and discussion over the past three years.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Bengang Li.

Supplementary information

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains a Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Methods, additional references, Supplementary Tables 1-2 and Supplementary Figures 1-9.

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    Supplementary Data

    This zipped file contains the source code of OSCAR, used to estimate China’s contribution to WMGHGs and to perform the overall integration and uncertainty analysis, along with any input data used in this study.

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