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Turning to International Cooperation: How Can Institutions Prevent Water Conflict?

International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution

The new legal framework of the Durban Climate Change Conference is expected to take effect in 2020, but as climate change negotiations drift farther away from establishing much-needed preventive measures, it looks like mitigation strategies will be key. As a consequence, with the continued increase of CO2 emissions, conflict resulting from climate change-induced water scarcity is more likely to occur.

However, a recent study on the impact of institutional schemes on international water conflict has identified some important provisions in cooperation agreements that offset the risk of international military conflicts over water resources. The empirical analysis covered the signatories of 315 river cooperation agreements signed between 1950 and 2002, and focused on the effects of the degree of institutionalization on the occurrence of militarized conflict in cases of water scarcity.

The study found that agreements equipped with extensive mechanisms such as monitoring, conflict management mechanisms, enforcement provisions, and delegation of authority to intergovernmental bodies, are more effective at preventing water conflicts from escalating. In other words, a cooperative framework endorsed by all the parties facilitates constructive conflict resolution (Deutsch, 2006). These results challenge the assumption that environmental scarcity leads to armed conflict, and shifts the focus to the development of successful international cooperation frameworks that can prevent it.


Tir, J., Stinnett, D. M. (2012). Weathering climate change: Can institutions mitigate international water conflict? Journal of Peace Research, 49(1), 211-225.

Deutsch, M. (2006). Cooperation and Competition. In M. Deutsch and P. T. Coleman (Eds), The Handbook of conflict resolution: Theory and practice (pp. 23-42). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.


Kyong Mazzaro

Kyong Mazzaro supports the coordination and management of research agendas as Project Coordinator at the Advanced Consortium on Cooperation, Conflict, and Complexity (AC4) at the Earth Institute, Columbia University and the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR) at Teachers College, Columbia University. Prior to joining AC4, Kyong Mazzaro was… MORE >

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