Katharina Neumann, University of Oxford

This project seeks to add another piece to the puzzle of addressing climate change by clarifying and improving the contribution that IEL can make to the GHG emission reduction in the terrestrial agricultural sector. It seeks to further the attainment of the Paris mitigation goals by addressing the ‘real-world’ issue that the agricultural sector is not fully realizing its mitigation potential from an international law perspective.

This proposition is premised on comparing the scientific evidence on agricultural GHG emissions to their role in states’ current emission reduction efforts. First, the agricultural sector contributes 13% to global GHG emissions. Second, the IPCC AR6 WGII report exposes the sector’s substantial mitigation potential, the largest mitigation potential after the energy sector. Third, the IPCC emission reduction pathways clearly indicate the sector’s relevance in reducing agricultural GHG emissions to achieve 1.5C. However, this evidence is not reflected in current and projected efforts of regulating GHG emissions in the sector, leading to a mismatch between the sector’s current role in emission reduction and its potential. This mismatch underscores the significance of addressing agricultural emissions, serving as the foundation that inspired the research question: ‘How, if at all, and to what extent, can agricultural emissions be addressed through international environmental law so as to contribute to the goals of the Paris Agreement?’.

Before establishing how agricultural emissions can be addressed, it will first be investigated how they are addressed. Consequently, the project examines the role of agriculture in IEL emission regulation instruments as well as the role of GHG emissions in IEL regimes regulating agriculture. This involves an analysis of the climate change regime on the one side and other Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) relevant to agriculture on the other. The findings from this status quo analysis are consequently used to identify potential gaps in IEL by analysing its legal architecture and the impacts it may have on the regulation of agricultural emissions. The second part of the project engages in a forward-looking exercise of how agricultural emissions can be addressed within IEL. It investigates whether the identified gaps can be addressed within the current legal architecture of IEL or whether a paradigm change is necessary. To determine the capacities of IEL’s current theoretical framework in addressing agricultural emissions the project employs IEL principles and Customary Environmental Law as potential modifying norms with the potential to redefine relationships among various primary norms. Lastly, the project explores necessary architectural changes in IEL to regulate agricultural emissions. Some suggestions on what this reconceptualization may involve are increased private actor action within IEL, sector-specific pledges, like the recent UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action or even legally binding agreements based on a sectoral approach.

Overall, this project holds doctrinal and practical significance. By answering the proposed research question the project seeks to first make a doctrinal contribution to IEL by clarifying the current capacity and limits of IEL in regulating agricultural emissions and determining future pathways of how IEL may improve ist capacities. Practically, the project seeks to address the real-world issue identified at the outset, that the agricultural sector is not fully realising its mitigation potential by incentivising states through IEL to take mitigation action in the agricultural sectors. The current climate emergency demands an elaborative approach to addressing emissions, indicating that harnessing agriculture’s full potential for emission reduction is a needed piece in the overall puzzle to address and combat climate change.