Some 40% of the world's population lives in the area of transboundary rivers and lakes, and depends on these shared, dynamic ecosystems for economic, social and environmental prosperity. Given this reality, the United Nations’ 2016 Sustainable Development Goals call for implementation of integrated management of water resources at all levels in transboundary systems by 2030. However, meeting this goal presents policy-makers with significant governance challenges, given rapid population growth, changing consumption and production patterns, and climate change.
Despite decades of political commitments, laws and agreements, as well as significant policy efforts, many existing shared governance regimes have not achieved basic policy goals of drinkable, swimmable, fishable waters – even in transboundary systems with well-established governance institutions like the Great Lakes. Further, pressures on freshwater systems will only intensify, given OECD predictions that global water demand will increase by 55% by 2050. How then do we move forward, given that governance regimes established over 40 years ago must now respond to highly complex conditions and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances?
Our primary research project (2017-2022) focuses on the prospects for adaptive transboundary governance in both the Great Lakes Basin and the Rio Grande-Bravo Basin. We aim to answer the following questions:
- Which contextual factors (political, economic, social and environmental) influence the adaptability of transboundary water governance systems, and does this influence operate differently at various scales?
- How, and to what extent, can governance indicators be applied and tested across complex transboundary water systems and at various governance scales in order to assess the adaptability of institutions and networks?
- How significant are knowledge and engagement indicators to improving the adaptability of water governance and policy outcomes in complex transboundary water systems?
The research, funded through a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) Insight Grant, involves two interrelated projects:
- First, we are applying and testing the OECD's new water governance indicators, intended for domestic application, at the transboundary level in both the Great Lakes Basin and the Rio Grande/Bravo; and
- Second, we are developing our own set of governance indicators for adaptive transboundary water governance and applying them to our cases at the transboundary, national, subnational and local scales
Our broader research project focuses on the prospects for adaptive governance in both the Great Lakes Basin and the Rio Grande-Rio Bravo Basin. In particular, we aim to answer the following questions: