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Press release | Climate | Greenhouse effect | Environment
A Franco-chinese team including the Laboratoire des Sciences du Climat et de l'Environnement (LSCE, CEA/CNRS/UVSQ) has demonstrated, using a new approach, that China's "climate responsibility", is not as significant as initially estimated. However, rather paradoxically, the latter country's "responsibility" may increase rapidly over the coming years, due to future policies designed to improve the country's air quality. Researchers obtained these results using a new methodology developed to determine the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, aerosols and compounds which are chemically active in the atmosphere on a country's climate.. This research is published in Nature on the 17th February 2016.
The researchers  quantified China's current contribution to global "radiative forcing" (the imbalance, of human origin, of our planet's radiation budget), by differentiating between the contributions of long-life greenhouse gases, the ozone and its precursors, as well as aerosols. To achieve this, they established the following model which combines:
They thereby estimated that China contributes an average of 10 % to current, global radiative forcing. Its contribution to heating forcing (caused by greenhouse gases, ground-level ozone and "black carbon") is 12% on average. Its contribution to cooling forcing (caused by aerosols, such as sulphates and nitrates, scattering solar radiation) is 15% on average.
As the world's top energy consumer, China's "climate responsibility" is below what may be expected, given its energy consumption and CO2 emissions.
There are two reasons for this; firstly, aerosols produced by China have a strong, concealing (cooling) effect and these aerosols are also a root cause of the country's poor air quality. Secondly, the method developed incorporates the effects of all emissions since 1750 (the dawn of the industrial era), thereby taking into consideration the fact that China is a relatively recent polluter.
According to the study, China's main contributions are:
China's stated aim of improving air quality over the coming years would change this radiative forcing, leading to a rather counter-intuitive consequence; the increase in China's contribution to global warming. Indeed, the reduction in the emission of precursors to polluting particles (sulphur dioxide) would diminish the concealing effects of Chinese aerosols, and would speed up warming,unless this effect were to be compensated elsewhere, for instance by significantly reducing long-life greenhouse gas emissions and "black carbon".
This new methodology could therefore be an interesting tool which could be used to re-evaluate countries' environmental impact.
This research was carried out as part of an 8-year collaboration between the LSCE and Peking University.
black carbon absorbs solar rays which can contribute to the warming of the atmosphere. It can be transported long distances and deposited on snow-covered expanses, thereby diminishing the latter's reflectivity(albedo).
“The contribution of China's emissions to global climate forcing”, Bengang Li et. al., Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature17165.
CEA is a French government-funded technological research organisation in four main areas: low-carbon energies, defense and security, information technologies and health technologies. A prominent player in the European Research Area, it is involved in setting up collaborative projects with many partners around the world.