Nation

Scientists say US role in curbing pollution is key to earth’s future

WASHINGTON — Earth is likely to reach more dangerous levels of warming even sooner if the United States retreats from its pledge to cut carbon dioxide pollution, scientists said. That’s because it contributes so much to rising temperatures.

President Trump said in a tweet Saturday that he would make his ‘‘final decision’’ this coming week on whether the United States stays in or leaves the 2015 Paris climate change accord in which nearly every nation agreed to curb its greenhouse gas emissions.

In an attempt to understand what could happen to the planet if the United States pulls out of Paris, The Associated Press consulted with more than two dozen climate scientists and analyzed a special computer model scenario designed to calculate potential effects.

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Scientists said it would worsen an already bad problem and make it far more difficult to prevent crossing a dangerous global temperature threshold.

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Calculations suggest it could result in emissions of up to 3 billion tons of additional carbon dioxide in the air a year. When it adds up year after year, scientists said that is enough to melt ice sheets faster, raise seas higher, and trigger more extreme weather.

‘‘If we lag, the noose tightens,’’ said Princeton University climate scientist Michael Oppenheimer, co-editor of the peer-reviewed journal Climatic Change.

One group ran a worst-case computer simulation of what would happen if the United States does not curb emissions, but other nations do meet their targets. It found that the United States would add as much as half a degree of warming to the globe by the end of the century.

Scientists are split on how reasonable and likely that scenario is.

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Many said because of cheap natural gas that displaces coal and growing adoption of renewable energy sources, the effect would likely be smaller. Others say it could be worse because other countries might follow a US exit, leading to more emissions from other nations.

Another computer simulation team put the effect of the US pulling out somewhere between 0.18 and 0.36 degree Fahrenheit.

While scientists may disagree on the computer simulations they overwhelmingly agreed that the warming the planet is undergoing now would be faster and more intense.

The world without US efforts would have a far more difficult time avoiding a dangerous threshold: keeping the planet from warming more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. The world has already warmed by just over half that amount — with about one-fifth of the past heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions coming from the United States, usually from the burning of coal, oil, and gas.

So the efforts are really about preventing another 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit from now.

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‘‘Developed nations — particularly the US and Europe — are responsible for the lion’s share of past emissions, with China now playing a major role,’’ said Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis. ‘‘This means Americans have caused a large fraction of the warming.’’

Even with the United States doing what it promised the world is likely to pass that 2-degree mark, many scientists said. But the fractions of additional degrees that the United States would contribute could mean passing the threshold faster, which could in turn mean ‘‘ecosystems being out of whack with the climate, trouble farming current crops, and increasing shortages of food and water,’’ said Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

Climate Interactive, a team of scientists and computer modelers who track global emissions and pledges, simulated global emissions if every country but the United States reaches its individualized goals to curb carbon pollution. Then they calculated what that would mean in global temperature, sea level rise, and ocean acidification, using scientifically accepted computer models.

One of the few scientists who plays down the harm of the United States possibly leaving the agreement is John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and the scientist credited with coming up with the 2-degree goal.

‘‘Ten years ago [a US exit] would have shocked the planet,’’ Schellnhuber said. ‘‘Today, if the US really chooses to leave the Paris agreement, the world will move on with building a clean and secure future.’’