Climate change, conflict, and cooperation: Global analysis of the effectiveness of international river treaties in addressing water variability

Shlomi Dinar, David Katz, Lucia De Stefano, Brian Blankespoor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Climate-driven water variability is a natural phenomenon that is observed across river basins, but one that is predicted to increase due to climate change. Environmental change of this kind may aggravate political tensions, especially in regions which are not equipped with an appropriate institutional apparatus. Increased variability is also likely to challenge regions with existing institutional capacity. We argue that our best attempts to assess the ability of states to deal with variability in the future rest with considering how agreements have fared in the past. In this paper, we explore treaty effectiveness, or treaty resilience, by investigating whether particular water allocation and institutional mechanisms help mitigate inter-country tensions over shared water. We use water-related events from the Basins at Risk events database as a dependent variable to test particular hypotheses regarding the impact of treaty design on conflict and cooperation over time. A broad set of climatic, geographic, political, and economic variables are used as controls. The analysis is conducted for the years 1948-2001 using the country dyad as the level of observation. Findings pertaining to our primary explanatory variables suggest that country dyads governed by treaties with water allocation mechanisms exhibiting both flexibility and specificity evince more cooperative behavior. Country dyads governed by treaties with a larger sum of institutional mechanisms likewise evince a higher level of cooperation, although certain institutional mechanisms appear to be more important than others.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)55-66
Number of pages12
JournalPolitical Geography
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2015


  • Climate change
  • Conflict
  • Cooperation
  • Institutional mechanisms
  • International water treaties
  • Treaty effectiveness
  • Water allocation mechanisms
  • Water variability

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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