Design and change in transboundary freshwater agreements

Charlotte De Bruyne*, Itay Fischhendler, Yoram Z. Haftel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)321-341
Number of pages21
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020, Springer Nature B.V.


  • Conflict resolution
  • Flexibility mechanisms
  • Gradualism
  • Institutional evolution
  • Institutional resilience
  • International agreements
  • Transboundary water treaties


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