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Institute of Advanced Study

Climate Change and State Grievances: The Resiliency of International River Treaties to increased Water Variability


As water variability in international river basins is expected to increase, due to the predicted effects of climate change, inter-state agreements to settle consequent disputes become paramount. Specifically, the mechanisms that states negotiate as part of these agreements are important. We argue that our best attempts to consider the ability of states to deal with variability in the future, rests with considering how the agreements have fared in the past.  In this paper we investigate whether particular mechanisms help mitigate inter-country tensions over shared water. We utilize a corpus of documented international water treaties pertaining to water quantity or allocation, hydropower and flood-control (those issues most affected by water variability), and the Basins at Risk events database to test particular hypotheses regarding the viability, or resiliency, of treaties to water variability. In general, we argue that particular treaty features and mechanisms are more apt to deal with decreased or increased river flow - in our particular case measured as a derived coefficient of variation pertaining to precipitation and river run-off. In essence, the presence of these instruments in a given treaty should decrease the likelihood of riparian complaints, or grievances, regarding the issue at hand. Treaties are coded for the particular mechanisms sought, and the events database is combed for related grievances and events. Our theory considers other control variables, but in this draft paper we investigate one in particular - trade. Generally, our statistical analysis finds that treaty mechanisms that are flexible and binding, with respect to flow variability, correspond with a decrease in the frequency and intensity of country complaints. Particular institutional mechanisms (e.g. enforcement, conflict resolution/dispute resolution and drought adaptation) also matter in further reducing country grievances due to flow variability and consequent treaty compliance problems.

Insights Paper