This paper presents a systematic assessment of transboundary water treaties and their institutional evolution over time. While the majority of treaties tend to remain unchanged, others are renegotiated over time, either gradually by treaty amendment or abruptly by treaty replacement. This study examines the sources of treaty amendment, treaty replacement, and renegotiation. Treaty design features, such as conflict resolution mechanisms and duration mechanisms, make up the set of independent variables. Effects are also measured for a set of control variables including the geographical configuration of a basin, the number of signatories, a history of interstate militarized disputes, water variability, the basin’s climate zone, and past renegotiations. Conflict resolution appears as a significant design feature for determining treaty stability, aided by asymmetrical basin configurations and bilateralism. The absence of conflict resolution is the main trigger for gradual change. The presence of a duration clause and a history of interstate militarized disputes are found to trigger abrupt change. Renegotiations become more likely after the first round of renegotiation, suggesting a temporal effect of path dependence on treaty evolution. This study adds to the work of scholars mapping transboundary basins at risk and provides further arguments to negotiate better and more specific treaties from the start, which include conflict resolution features that enable dialogue and rule modification while avoiding the need for formal treaty renegotiation.
This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price includes VAT for USA
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
This is the net price. Taxes to be calculated in checkout.
The non-navigational uses of water applies to uses of international watercourses and of their waters for purposes other than navigation and to measures of protection, preservation, and management related to the uses of those watercourses and their waters (Convention on the Law of Non-Navigational Uses of International Watercourses, 1997).
An overview of this research is presented in Konca Ken and Dabelko D. Geoffrey, 2002, Environmental Peacemaking.
Conflict resolution, dispute resolution, and dispute settlement are used interchangeably throughout the text. The corresponding variable is labeled DSM for the statistical analysis.
In this case, the absence of formal amendments does not capture all changes that took place since the signature of the treaty: the bilateral treaty between Germany and Austria on the Danube converged with the 1994 basin-wide Convention on Cooperation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the Danube River. Also, in the particular case of river basins in the European Union, since the year 2000, the EU Water Framework Directive has been declared highest priority in all European basins, affecting policy changes in water governance that not resulted in the revision of the existing treaties on the continent.
Withdrawal and unilateral denunciation refer to a unilateral act by which a state that is currently a party to a treaty ends its membership in it. In the case of multilateral agreements, this generally does not affect the treaty’s continuation in force for the remaining parties. For bilateral agreements, in contrast, denunciation or withdrawal by either party results in the termination of the treaty.
We were not able to code a handful of treaties in Hungarian, Ukrainian, and Russian.
These are temperate, continental, tropical, dry, and semi-dry climate zones as well as mixed for basins that transcend climate zones. The polar zone is excluded from the analysis, as it covers no transboundary waters.
In addition to variables mentioned herein, we controlled for two additional variables. First, the 1966 Helsinki Rules on the Uses of the Waters of International Rivers were found to heavily influence state practice and preferences in the field of transboundary water management (Bourne 1996). We therefore added a dummy variable that scores one for all years after 1965. Second, water variability may cause riparian states to deviate from the treaty (Bhaduri 2006) or adjust it according to new levels of water availability. One might therefore expect to greater change in basins where resource variability is high. We included a variable that scores one if water variability is above 0.50 and zero otherwise. Both variables were statistically insignificant and did not change the results. They are on file with the authors.
Militarized interstate dispute (MID) are “cases of conflict in which the threat, display or use of military force short of war by one member-state is explicitly directed towards the government, official representatives, official forces, property, or territory of another state. Disputes are composed of incidents that range in intensity from threats to use force to actual combat short of war” (Jones et al., 1996: 163).
To further probe the implications of this variation, we ran the analysis for bilateral and multilateral treaties separately (excluding Bilateral Agreement). The small number of agreements that score one on Replace (9 for bilateral and 4 for multilateral treaties) did not permit a meaningful statistical analysis. We therefore report results only for Amend and Renegotiate. The results reported in the Appendix (Table 4) remain intact.
Due to the number of climate zones (4), there was insufficient data (treaties) per category, while data regarding floods was available only for treaties signed after 1980.
Precipitation data is used instead of run-off data because it is available over a much longer time frame (World Bank 2009).
Another minor exception is the strong positive effect of fixed duration on treaty replacement. This is not surprising, as agreements that are in force for a limited number of years require renewal or are otherwise automatically lapsed.
Both curves start at one in time zero, reflecting the fact that no treaty is expected to be amended when it is first signed. As time passes, more and more treaties are expected to be amended, but the number of amended treaties is higher for treaties that do not include a DSM. As one can see in Fig. 3, the curve for such treaties reaches 0.6 after 20 years, which means that 60% of the treaties are expected to remain intact, and by implication 40% are expected to be amended.
For example, the 1954 treaty on the Drava, signed between Yugoslavia and Austria, was never amended.
For example, the multilateral 1977 Organization for the Management and Development of the Kagera River Basin, was amended as little as a year later, in 1978.
See also reference note 6.
We note that the sample of agreements on which our statistical analysis is based ranges from 1950 to 2004, which could further explain the limited impact of climate change.
Abbott K and Snidal D (2000) Hard and Soft Law in International Governance, 54 International Organization, 3, 421
Abbott K and Snidal D (2002) Values and interests: international legalization in the fight against corruption, January Journal of Legal Studies
Amenta E and Ramsey KM (2010) Institutional theory. In Leicht KT and Jenkins JC (eds.), Handbook of politics: state and society in global perspective 15
Bhaduri A (2006) Bargaining in transboundary water sharing, Submission to the BE Journal of Economic Analysis and Policy
Bourne CB (1996) The international law association’s contribution to international water resources law, 36 Natural Resources Journal 155
Box-Steffensmeier JM, Jones BF (2004) Event history modeling: a guide for social scientists, Cambridge University Press, 218p
Campbell JL (2004) Institutional change and globalization
Capoccia G (2015) Critical junctures and institutional change, Advances in Comparative-Historical Analysis 147
Carlson JM and Doyle J (2002) Complexity and robustness, 99 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (suppl 1) 2538
Conca K, Fengshi F and Ciqi C (2006) Global regime formation or complex institution building? The principled content of international river agreements, 2 International Studies Quarterly 50 263
Cooley H and Gleick PH (2011) Climate-proofing transboundary water agreements, 4 Hydrological Sciences Journal 56 711
De Bruyne C and Fischhendler I (2013) Negotiating conflict resolution mechanisms for transboundary water treaties: a transaction cost approach, 6 Global Environmental Change 23: 1841
De Stefano L, Petersen-Perlman JD, Sproles EA, Eynard J, and Wolf AT (2017) Assessment of transboundary river basins for potential hydro-political tensions, 45 Global Environmental Change 35
Dinar S, De Stefano L, Blankespoor B and Katz D (2011) Climate change and state grievances: the resiliency of international river treaties to increased water variability, Paper presented at the International Studies Association Annual Convention
Dinar S, Katz D, De Stefano L and Blankespoor B (2015) Climate change, conflict, and cooperation: global analysis of the effectiveness of international river treaties in addressing water variability, 45 Political Geography 55
Eilstrup-Sangiovanni M., forthcoming. Death of international organizations. The organizational ecology of intergovernmental organizations, 1815–2015. The Review of International Organizations
Fioretos O, Falleti TG, and Sheingate A (2016) Historical institutionalism in political science, The Oxford handbook of historical institutionalism 3
Fischhendler I (2004) Legal and institutional adaptation to climate uncertainty: a study of international rivers. 6 Water Policy 281
Ghosn F, Palmer G, and Bremer SA (2004) The MID3 data set, 1993–2001: procedures, coding rules, and description, 21 Conflict Management and Peace Science 133
Geiger R (1961) Überarbeitete Neuausgabe von Geiger, R., Köppen-Geiger/Klima der Erde Wandkarte
Giordano M and Wolf AT (2003) Sharing waters: post-Rio international water management, 27 Natural Resources Forum 163
Giordano MF, Giordano MA and Wolf AT (2005) International resource conflict and mitigation, 42 Journal of Peace Research 47
Giordano M, Drieschova A and Duncan S (2014) A review of the evolution of and state of transboundary freshwater treaties, 14 International Environmental Agreements 245
Gupta J (2016) The watercourses convention, hydro-hegemony and transboundary water issues. The International Spectator 51(3):118–131
Haas EB (1990) When knowledge is power: three models of change in international organizations (vol. 22)
Haftel YZ and Thompson A (2018) When do states renegotiate investment agreements? The impact of arbitration, 13 The Review of International Organizations 25
Hamner JH and Wolf AT (1998) Patterns in international water resource treaties: the transboundary freshwater dispute database, Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy, 1997 Yearbook
Hayton RD and Utton AE (1989) Transboundary groundwaters: the Bellagio Draft Treaty, 29 Natural Resources Journal 668
Herrfahrdt-Pähle E and Pahl-Wostl C (2012) Continuity and change in social-ecological systems: the role of institutional resilience, 17 Ecology and Society
Huisman P, De Jong J and Wieriks K (2000) Transboundary cooperation in shared river basins: experiences from the Rhine, Meuse and North Sea, 2 Water Policy 83
Jafroudi M (2018) Enhancing climate resilience of transboundary water allocation agreements: the impact of shortening the agreement’s lifetime on cooperation stability. International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics 18(5):707–722
Jupille JH, Mattli W and Snidal D (2013) Institutional choice and global commerce
Koremenos B (2001) Loosening the ties that bind: a learning model of agreement flexibility, 55 International Organization 289
Koremenos B, Lipson C, and Snidal D (2001) The rational design of international institutions, 55 International Organization 55: 761
Koremenos B (2005) Contracting around international uncertainty, 99 American Political Science Review, 549
Koremenos B and Betz T (2013) The design of dispute settlement procedures in international agreements, Interdisciplinary perspectives on international law and international relations: the state of the art 371
Köppen W (1936) Das geographische System der Klimate - Handbuch der Klimatologie (Bd. 1, Teil C)
Krasner SD (1988) Sovereignty: an institutional perspective, 21 Comparative political studies 66
Levi M (1997) A model, a method, and a map: rational choice in comparative and historical analysis, 28 Comparative politics: rationality, culture, and structure 78
Levitsky S and Murillo MV (2013) Building institutions on weak foundations, 24 Journal of Democracy 93
Mahoney J and Thelen K (2010) A theory of gradual institutional change, 1 Explaining institutional change: ambiguity, agency, and power
McCaffrey SC (2003) The need for flexibility in freshwater treaty regimes, 27 Natural Resources Forum 156
Michonski K, Levi MA (2010) Harnessing international institutions to address climate change, IIGG Working Paper 2, Council on Foreign Relations
Mitchell SML and Zawahri NA (2015) The effectiveness of treaty design in addressing water disputes, 52 Journal of Peace Research 187
Mukhtarov F (2011) The concept of path dependency in water governance available at https://www.watergovernance.eu/about/the-concept-of-path-dependency-in-water-governance/ (last visited at 22/04/2018)
Nax N (2016) Looking to the future: the Indus Waters Treaty and climate change
Nexon D (2012) Historical institutionalism and international relations, 16 E-International Relations
North D (1990) Institutions, institutional change and economic performance
Ostrom E (2005) Understanding institutional diversity
Ovodenko A (2014) Regional water cooperation creating incentives for integrated management, Journal of Conflict Resolution
Pahl-Wostl, C., Bhaduri A and Gupta J (2016) Handbook on water security. Cheltenham, UK/Northampton, US: Edward Elgar
Peel MC, Finlayson BL and McMahon TA (2007) Updated world map of the Köppen–Geiger climate classification, 11 Hydrological Earth System Science 1633
Petersen-Perlman JD, Veilleux J, Zentner M and Wolf AT (2012) Case studies on water security: analysis of system complexity and the role of institutions, 149 Journal of Contemporary Water Research & Education 4
Pierson P (2000) The limits of design: explaining institutional origins and change, 13 Governance: an international journal of policy and administration
Roland G (2004) Understanding institutional change: fast-moving and slow-moving institutions’, 38 Studies in Comparative International Development 109
Streeck W, and Thelen KA (eds) (2005) Beyond continuity: institutional change in advanced political economies
Subramanian A, Brown B, and Wolf AT (2012) Reaching across the waters: facing the risks of cooperation in international waters
Susskind LE (1994) Environmental diplomacy: negotiating more effective global agreements
Swidler A (1986) Culture in action: symbols and strategies, 51 American Sociological Review 273
Thompson A, Broude T, Haftel YZ (2019) Once bitten, twice shy? Investment disputes, state sovereignty, and change in treaty design. Int Organ 73(4):859–880
Timmerman JG and Bernardini F (2009) Adapting to climate change in transboundary water management, Perspective Document for the 5th World Water Forum (CPWC)
Transboundary Freshwater Dispute Database (TFDD) (n.d). Product of Oregon State University: http://www.transboundarywaters.orst.edu/
Trewartha GT (1968) An introduction to climate
Vörösmarty CJ, Hoekstra AY, Bunn SE, Conway D and Gupta J (2015) What scale for water governance: fresh water goes global? Science 349, no. 6247
Waltz K (1979) Theory of international politics
Wolf AT, Yoffe S and Giordano M (2003) International waters: identifying basins at risk, 5 Water Policy 29
Wolf AT (2007) Shared waters: conflict and cooperation, 32 Annual Review of Environment and Resources 1
Young OR (2010) Institutional dynamics: emergent patterns in international environmental governance
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
De Bruyne, C., Fischhendler, I. & Haftel, Y.Z. Design and change in transboundary freshwater agreements. Climatic Change (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-020-02768-5
- International agreements
- Transboundary water treaties
- Institutional evolution
- Flexibility mechanisms
- Conflict resolution
- Institutional resilience