Great Lakes institutions as CGRs and agents for water diplomacy in the basin

Complex Great Lakes institutional arrangements formed out of fears of a crisis or in a near conflict mode but have evolved and adapted so that water diplomacy frequently occurs in collaborative management and conflict prevention, and not conflict mitigation or resolution. Moreover, these complex and relatively mature institutional arrangements have allowed Great Lakes institutions to develop unique technical niches of water diplomacy expertise.

The IJC’s role in water diplomacy under the Boundary Waters Treaty is clear but cannot justifiably be characterized as a CGR. By contrast, its role in the GLWQA is much more collaborative. The IJC convenes numerous boards under the GLWQA, many of which involve multi-stakeholder groups. A Great Lakes Water Quality Board, a Great Lakes Science Advisory Board, a Health Professionals Advisory Board, and a binational Adaptive Management Committee have diverse participation from multiple stakeholders and generally employ collaborative processes that reflect the dynamics of a CGR—practices that were enhanced with the latest (2012) amendments to the GLWQA. These boards have both technical and semi-diplomatic roles and responsibilities. That is, they assemble relevant data and technical/ scientific information along with contextual information to make recommendations to the governments of the United States and Canada on a variety of issues affecting Great Lakes water quality.

The conference, as secretariat for the Regional Body and the Compact Council, has evolved as the legitimate entity for preventing and managing water conflict when it comes to requests for managing

Water diplomacy 65 water withdrawals and diversions. This two-tiered sequential decisionmaking water diplomacy regime (Regional Body first) is relatively new and has only been put to the test a few times.49 The structure and procedures of the Regional Body and Compact Council differ legally, which has implications for the extent to which each constitutes a CGR. Nonetheless, the complementary governance regime they provide collectively—one nonbinding with undertones of collaboration and consensus building, the other binding and regulatory—provides certainty and stability that enables effective water diplomacy when it comes to Great Lakes water diversions and intrabasin transfers.

The GLFC is the leading binational institution for reducing uncertainty and preventing and resolving disagreements and promoting cooperation with respect to binational fisheries management. Its formal role may be more fishery diplomacy than water diplomacy. A 2016 assessment of the GLFC’s Joint Strategic Plan noted that issues of water quality and habitat have been viewed as ancillary and that its engagement in Great Lakes water quality agreement structures would enhance its ability to foster transboundary governance capacity.50 By extension, engagement on these broader issues would also enhance the GLFC’s role in water diplomacy. Since that assessment, it has expanded its activities to participate more in multi-stakeholder teams and forums, such as those convened by the IJC or GLC. The GLFC’s institutional stability and leadership on fishery management coupled with growing engagement on broader water management issues render the organization a significant actor in the context of Great Lakes water diplomacy.

The GLC’s role in water diplomacy has evolved more as a CGR than an executor of the Basin Compact. Due to its broad mandate and its nonregulatory duties, the GLC has, in many ways, had to build itself as a CGR to prove its value in a relatively crowded space of ecosystem management and water diplomacy. The GLC has done this in part by evolving to fill in many of the water diplomacy needs not being addressed by other institutions. Governmental and nongovernmental actors convene at the call of the GLC (or ask the organization to convene them) because the problems are indeed wicked. They recognize that the GLC provides a stable, legitimate and credible institution where the US states, Canadian provinces, and other governmental actors, as well as nongovernmental actors can come together and use principled engagement processes to build consensus around Great Lakes water management issues. See Figure 2.4 for details on relevant organizations.

Binational institutions of the North American Great Lakes

Figure 2.4 Binational institutions of the North American Great Lakes.

Source: Victoria Pebbles. 2019.

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