China is responsible for about 10% of global warming since the pre-industrial era, according to estimates published in the journal Nature.
The study, which is the first comprehensive assessment of China’s contribution, also suggests that China’s goal of improving air quality could lead to an increased contribution to global warming.
The researchers say smog in China’s cities is currently masking temperature increases and that plans to clean up will accelerate China’s contribution to global warming.
Last month was the warmest seasonally adjusted month in more than a century of global record keeping, according to analysis by NASA.
Bengang Li of Peking University and colleagues used biogeochemical and atmospheric models to quantify China’s current (2010) and historical (1750 to 2010) contribution to climate change.
They found that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels was the single biggest contributor to warming but methane and black carbon aerosols are also important.
A views article, also in Nature, by Dominick V. Spracklen of the University of Leeds, says air pollutants interact in complex ways with ecosystems. Land-use change alters air quality and pollution can impact forest growth.
“Mitigating climate change and air quality without unintended consequences will require an understanding of many complex interactions,” he says.
Recent studies have show that fast-growing forest plantations in Europe store less biomass and absorb more sunlight than do natural forests. Both reduce the forests’ benefit to climate.
“It is possible that a greater focus than at present on protecting and restoring natural forests in China might also provide greater benefits for global climate,” writes Dr Spracklen.