The Barriers to Entry into Force

A number of interrelated reasons can explain the slow entry into force of the UN Watercourses Convention.

Treaty congestion: The UN Watercourses Convention was adopted at a time when international law relating to the environment and development was undergoing significant change. The 1990s witnessed the negotiation and conclusion of global agreements relating to climate change, biodiversity and desertification; as well as non-binding instruments, such as the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, the Forest Principles and the Agenda 21. This proliferation of international agreements and ‘soft-law’ instruments has lead to the phenomenon described as ‘treaty congestion.’21 Already in 1993, Edith Brown Weiss noted that,

… treaty congestion leads to overload at the national level in implementing the international agreements. A country needs sufficient political, administrative, and economic capacity to be able to implement agreements effectively. Today a large number of international environmental institutions, including most pointedly the numerous secretariats servicing international environmental agreements, have some claim on the administrative capacity of national States.22

The UN Watercourses Convention was adopted in the latter half of the 1990s, at the tail end of many other agreements relating to the environment and development. Treaty congestion could, therefore, be a possible reason why States have not been more proactive in joining the Convention.

Low awareness and capacity: Another reason why the UN Watercourses Convention has not been widely ratified may relate to lack of awareness and capacity. While the UN Watercourses Convention might be known to specialist lawyers working on transboundary issues, in order to ensure that it is widely promoted and ultimately implemented, there must be good levels of awareness across government ministries and civil society, and not just within the legal community. Efforts to raise awareness started very late in the evolution of the UN Watercourses Convention, namely in 2006. For more on efforts to raise awareness about and understanding of the UNWC, go to the Global Relevance section of the website.

Lack of a champion: While some key individual governments, UN bodies, such as UNEP, or regional organisations, such as the European Community, have been behind the swift (or, at least, more effective) ratification process of other multilateral agreements, no such support had been afforded to the UN Watercourses Convention. It was only during the last few years that the international community has come together around the goal of accelerating the Convention’s ratification process. For instance, in 2006, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) – an environmental non-governmental organization – launched an international initiative to raise awareness of the Convention, promote its entry into force and future implementation, and assist States through the ratification process. Other stakeholders have progressively joined the initiative, which has produced some tangible results over the years. For more on efforts to raise awareness about and understanding of the UNWC, go to the Global Relevance section of the website.

21 E. Brown Weiss, ‘International Environmental Law: Contemporary Issues and the Emergence of a New World Order’, 81 Geo. L.J. 675 (1993), 697
22 Ibid.

Video: Flavia Loures Video: Flavia Loures 10 more years for entry into force?- Role of the UNWC Global Initiative in promoting the UNWC (WWF)
Video: Lesha Witmer Video: Lesha Witmer Importance of the entry into force of the UNWC
Video: Stephen McCaffrey Video: Stephen McCaffrey What is the legitimacy of the UNWC? – An historical perspective


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