Do treaties matter? Climate change, water variability, and cooperation along transboundary river basins

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Annual and seasonal water variability is predicted to intensify due to climate change. River basins lacking institutional capacity, such as treaties, to deal with environmental change may experience political tensions. Using the 1948–2008 country dyads event data from the Basins at Risk project, this paper investigates whether basins governed by treaties witness less tensions and/or more cooperation over shared water relative to those basins not governed by treaties. It also evaluates basins pre- and post-treaty enactment. The results provide only limited support for the claim that the presence of a treaty does in fact promote cooperation, but provide stronger support for the claim that the number of agreements between riparians enhances cooperation particularly when taking into consideration water variability. This variable is significantly and positively correlated with increased cooperation – a finding that is robust across different specifications controlling for a broad set of climatic, geographic, political, and economic variables. This may indicate that successive treaties successfully address some of the shortcomings of their predecessors. Importantly, when disaggregating conflictive and cooperative events, the research does not find support for the claim that treaties or number of treaties reduce conflict. This may highlight the importance of the need to treat conflict and cooperation individually and not simply as opposite poles of a single spectrum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-172
Number of pages11
JournalPolitical Geography
StatePublished - Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank


  • Climate change
  • Conflict
  • Cooperation
  • International water treaties
  • Water variability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

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


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