Some 40% of the world’s population live in transboundary river and lake systems, and depend on these shared, dynamic ecosystems for economic, social and environmental prosperity. Given this reality, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals call for implementation of integrated management of water resources at all levels in transboundary systems by 2030. However, given rapid population growth, changing consumption and production patterns and climate change, meeting this goal presents policy-makers with significant governance challenges.
Despite decades of political commitments, laws and agreements, as well as significant policy efforts, many existing shared governance regimes have not yet 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 decades (or even a century) ago must now respond to highly complex conditions and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances?
Our current research project (2017-2022), funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), focuses on the prospects for adaptive transboundary governance in the Great Lakes Basin and the Rio Grande-Rio Bravo Basin. In particular, 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 involves two interrelated projects:
- We are applying and testing the OECD’s new water governance indicators, intended for domestic application, at the transboundary level in both our cases; and
- 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.