- Increased variability of rainfall and flow from climate change has the potential to stress existing transboundary water sharing agreements and make meeting the needs of all riparians difficult. Water treaties have been theorized as valuable tools for mitigating conflict in times of climate stress, but the relationship between the design of treaties and their impact has not been explored in depth.
In this study, a literature review extracts core concepts commonly used to explain the success of treaties in managing hydrologic stress. These are summarized as seven treaty mechanisms categories (specificity, uncertainty management, enforcement, communications, flexibility, integrativeness, and scale) and are hypothesized as important for shaping the institutional resiliency of a treaty. While recognizing that there is significant variability within basins and treaties, this project uses a comprehensive, quantitative approach with multiple basins (n=52) and treaties (n=146), to empirically examine the effectiveness of the seven treaty mechanisms for deterring conflict and complaints that occur due to hydrologic stress. Contrary to expectations, the most robust treaties with more mechanisms have a higher instance of both climate and general conflict. Coefficients obtained from regression analysis indicate that an increase in flexibility, scale, and enforcement within a treaty are an indicator of less conflict or complaints and the negative coefficients for communications, specificity, and integrativeness tend to indicate more conflict.
The general mechanism results are used to evaluate specific treaties and their capability to manage projected changes in climate in five case study basins: the Nile, Jordan, Tigris/Euphrates, Indus, and Helmand. The case studies illustrate the difficulties in pinpointing the importance and impact of each mechanism, and the overall treaty design, on water relations. Treaty mechanisms certainly play an important role in de-escalating tensions when stresses occurred within each basin. However, conflict de-escalation is not a direct cause and effect relationship between the capabilities of the water institutions and the amount of stress to the system. Instead, there is a complex relationship between change to the system and management efforts that involves a series of feedback loops and influence from non-water related sectors.
Analysis of the seven mechanisms and the five case studies provides several summary explanatory concepts that include: treaty design and mechanisms exert an influence not just on the management capability (institutional resilience) aspect of relations, but also help to shape the political context of the problem; complaints are not necessarily an indicator of decreased institutional resiliency, weak, or ill-designed treaties, but in some cases illustrate that a treaty is functioning properly; and ambient poor relations are important for shaping many complaints. What is better understood through this research is how treaty design has a relevant and important role in shaping basin management so that nations may better achieve their goals in a changing climate.