Journal Articles

Water Security and International Law

Philippe Cullet

Annual Review of Law and Social Science

October 15, 2021

International law seeks to ensure water security and to prevent or resolve conflicts leading to water insecurity. This relationship is based on a hybrid framework comprising binding and nonbinding instruments. The multi-scalar dimensions of water (in)security are recognized, but further engagement is required. The link between international law and water (in)security is considered primarily through the lens of international water law, which focuses on transboundary (surface) watercourses. Groundwater—the other main source of water and determinant of water (in)security—receives little attention. Further, the traditional state-centric approach, with its emphasis on sovereignty and cooperation, remains the dominant paradigm despite some attempts to redefine it. Several other branches of international law present opportunities for expanding international law’s engagement with the water security discourse. Finally, the climate change challenge requires a reconsideration of international law’s approach to water (in)security while considering the global dimensions of water.

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