Research Handbook on International Water Law
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Research Handbook on International Water Law

Edited by Stephen C. McCaffrey, Christina Leb and Riley T. Denoon

The Research Handbook on International Water Law surveys the field of the law of shared freshwater resources. In some thirty chapters, it covers subjects ranging from the general principles operative in the field and international groundwater law to the human right to water and whether international water law is prepared to cope with climate disruption. The authors are internationally recognized experts in the field, most with years of experience. The Research Handbook is edited by three scholars and practitioners whose publications and work deal with the law of international watercourses.
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Chapter 10: Water and multilateral environmental agreements: an incomplete jigsaw puzzle

Daniel Barstow Magraw and Patsorn Udomritthiruj


The international legal relationship between water and the environment is complex and fragmented. Virtually all Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) relate to water in some way, but MEAs’ treatment of water varies, and no treaty addresses comprehensively the relationship between water and the environment. Instead, a fragmented approach exists. Hundreds of watercourse treaties exist containing rules about watercourse allocation and, increasingly, general obligations to protect the environment; and hundreds of other environmental treaties covering a wide range of resources and threats address some aspects of the water-environment relationship. Customary international law is also relevant. This jigsaw puzzle has led to three realities: gaps, overlaps and inconsistencies in coverage; the imperative that environmental treaty regimes coordinate their policies and actions; and impediments to cooperation among regimes. Unless normative clarification and institutional rationalization occur, water shortages will worsen, water will increasingly be used in environmentally harmful ways, and international disputes will needlessly arise.

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