Black carbon (BC), unlike most aerosol types, absorbs solar radiation. However, the quantification of its climate impact is uncertain and presently under debate. Recently, attention has been drawn both to a likely underestimation of global BC emissions in climate models, and an overestimation of BC at high altitudes. Here we show that doubling present day BC emissions in a model simulation, while reducing BC lifetime based on observational evidence, leaves the direct aerosol effect of BC virtually unchanged. Increased emissions, together with increased wet removal that reduces the lifetime, yields modelled BC vertical profiles that are in strongly improved agreement with recent aircraft observations. Furthermore, we explore the consequences of an altered BC profile in a global circulation model, and show that both the vertical profile of BC and rapid climate adjustments need to be taken into account in order to assess the total climate impact of BC.