International trade separates regions consuming goods and services from regions where goods and related aerosol pollution are produced. Yet the role of trade in aerosol climate forcing attributed to different regions has never been quantified. Here, we contrast the direct radiative forcing of aerosols related to regions’ consumption of goods and services against the forcing due to emissions produced in each region. Aerosols assessed include black carbon, primary organic aerosol, and secondary inorganic aerosols, including sulfate, nitrate and ammonium. We find that global aerosol radiative forcing due to emissions produced in East Asia is much stronger than the forcing related to goods and services ultimately consumed in that region because of its large net export of emissions-intensive goods. The opposite is true for net importers such as Western Europe and North America: global radiative forcing related to consumption is much greater than the forcing due to emissions produced in these regions. Overall, trade is associated with a shift of radiative forcing from net importing to net exporting regions. Compared to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, the short atmospheric lifetimes of aerosols cause large localized differences between consumption- and production-related radiative forcing. International efforts to reduce emissions in the exporting countries will help alleviate trade-related climate and health impacts of aerosols while lowering global emissions.

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This research is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC; 41422502 and 41222036), the 973 program (2014CB441303 and 2014CB441301), and World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF; 10010002399). Z.Lu and D.S. acknowledge the support of the Modeling, Analysis and Predictability (MAP) programme of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) under Proposal No. 08-MAP-0143. Z.Liu acknowledges the support of NSFC (41501605). D.G. acknowledges the support of NSFC (41328008), the National Key R&D Program of China (2016YFA0602604), the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ES/L016028/1), and the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/N00714X/1).

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Author notes

    • Jintai Lin
    •  & Dan Tong

    These authors contributed equally to this work.


  1. Laboratory for Climate and Ocean-Atmosphere Studies, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, School of Physics, Peking University, Beijing 100871, China

    • Jintai Lin
    • , Ruijing Ni
    • , Xiaoxiao Tan
    • , Yingying Yan
    • , Yongyun Hu
    •  & Jing Li
  2. Ministry of Education Key Laboratory for Earth System Modeling, Center for Earth System Science, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Dan Tong
    • , Hongyan Zhao
    • , Tong Feng
    • , Qiang Zhang
    • , Xujia Jiang
    •  & Guannan Geng
  3. Department of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA

    • Steven Davis
  4. Department of Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec H3A 0B9, Canada

    • Xiaoxiao Tan
    •  & Yi Huang
  5. Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544, USA

    • Da Pan
  6. Energy Systems Division, Argonne National Laboratory, Argonne, Illinois 60439, USA

    • Zifeng Lu
    •  & David Streets
  7. Resnick Sustainability Institute, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA

    • Zhu Liu
  8. State Key Joint Laboratory of Environmental Simulation and Pollution Control, School of Environment, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China

    • Kebin He
  9. Collaborative Innovation Center for Regional Environmental Quality, Beijing 100084, China

    • Kebin He
  10. School of International Development, University of East Anglia, Norwich NR4 7TJ, UK

    • Dabo Guan


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J.L., Q.Z. and Y.Huang conceived the research. D.T., D.P., H.Z., T.F., Z.L., D.S. and Q.Z. calculated the emissions. R.N., Y.Y. and J.L. conducted chemical transport model simulations. X.T., R.N., Y.Huang and J.L. conducted radiative transfer model simulations. J.L., S.D., Y.Huang and R.N. led the analysis and writing. All authors contributed to the writing.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Jintai Lin or Qiang Zhang or Yi Huang.

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