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When and how environmental considerations are included in transboundary water agreements

Authors: Jacob Petersen-Perlman*, East Carolina University, Eran Feitelson, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Legal Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: transboundary river basins, water resources, international water treaties, environmental agreements
Session Type: Paper
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The proliferation of transboundary water agreements, particularly post-1950, has been interpreted positively by those who view cooperation as a welcome development in international relations. Until recently, most international water agreements have concerned utilization. Yet this focus on utilization has led to the results of certain agreements impacting ecological aspects such environmental flows, water quality, and riverine biota. After examining the role of institutions in transboundary basins and previous institutional responses to environmental concerns, this paper examines what conditions are needed for the environment to be considered in international water agreements, under which circumstances those agreements may have environmental effects, and how geographical and economic differences may explain the (lack of) consideration of the environment thus far. The paper identifies and analyzes environmentally focused treaties from a collection of 688 water-related agreements signed between 1820 and 2007. We hypothesize that the consideration of the environment is less likely in institutions governing arid basins or sub-basins, and that basins that are not over-allocated are more likely to consider the environment in their institutions due to higher flexibility. We also hypothesize that agreements considering the environment are more likely to occur in basins that already have institutional capacity established over utilization.

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