A landmark agreement to cut the world’s reliance on fossil fuels and thus slow the pace of global warming presents an important opportunity for universities, says Griffith University’s Professor Brendan Mackey.

The Director of the Griffith Climate Change Response Program, Professor Mackey says university research will be vital in gathering and distributing new knowledge on climate change.

Professor Mackey was in Paris for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change that ended yesterday with an accord committing most of the world’s nations to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Due to come into effect in2020, the historic agreement limits man-made global warming to well below an initial target of two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

A locked-in limit of 1.5 degrees is also positive news for smaller island nations that went to Paris with the message that two degrees still jeopardised their existence.Professor Mackey also previously warned about the two-degree target.

“Two degrees will still expose Australia to extreme climate-related risks, especially in the coastal zone. If 1.5 degrees is needed to protect small island states, then it is necessary for all countries that have a coastline,” he said.

The Paris agreement includesmechanisms for five-yearly reviews of emission reduction targets.

Professor Mackey says university research can inform climate change knowledge, policy and practice in the lead-up to and beyond 2020.

“Universities have a critical role to play in the generation and transmission of new knowledge to ensure that policy options are informed by the best available evidence as to efficacy and consequences,” he said.

Griffith University is well placed in this regard, being home to the Griffith Climate Change Response Program and the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility.

Professor Mackey says Australia recently has played a much more positive and constructive role in climate change negotiations.

He hopes a strong agreement will in turn strengthen the hand of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s Federal Government and be followed by a wave of community and business support for an upscaling of domestic ambition and actions on climate change.