How are the two global water conventions different ?


 To what extent do the norms and provisions of the 1992 Water Convention complement or contradict the norms and provisions of the 1997 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (1997 Watercourses Convention)?

The two global water Conventions are fully compatible and are not contradictory. In fact, the two Conventions are in many ways mutually complementary, for example:

  • The 1997 Watercourses Convention complements the 1992 Water Convention by:
    • Detailing the factors relevant to equitable and reasonable utilization (Article 6 of the 1997 Watercourses Convention).
    • Specifying the procedures for notification and consultations on planned measures (Part III of the 1997 Watercourses Convention). 
    • Describing the consequences of the occurrence of transboundary impact (Article 7(2) of the 1997 Watercourses Convention).
  • Conversely, the 1992 Water Convention complements the 1997 Watercourses Convention by:
    • Prescribing the content of specific agreements and tasks of joint bodies (Article 9 of the 1992 Water Convention).
    • Detailing the information subject to joint assessment and exchange (Articles 11 and 13 of the 1992 Water Convention). 
    • Providing detailed guidance on water quality objectives and best available technology (Annexes I–III of the 1992 Water Convention).



There are however some differences between the two Conventions:

  • The 1992 Water Convention obliges Riparian Parties to enter into agreements and establish joint bodies for their shared waters, whereas the 1997 Watercourses Convention only recommends watercourse States to conclude specific agreements and cooperate through joint institutions. Nevertheless, both Conventions rely heavily on agreements and joint bodies for their successful implementation.
  • The 1992 Water Convention provides for the obligation to adapt existing agreements where necessary to eliminate contradiction with the “basic principles” (i.e. fundamental provisions) of the Convention, but it does not require to revise existing agreements to reflect all the provisions of the Convention. The 1997 Watercourses Convention encourages harmonizing existing agreements with the “basic principles” of the Watercourses Convention.
  • The 1992 Water Convention establishes an institutional mechanism to support its implementation, i.e. an intergovernmental platform based on the Meeting of the Parties and its subsidiary bodies, whereas the 1997 Watercourses Convention does not provide for such a cooperation mechanism.
  • Whereas the 1997 Watercourses Convention leaves confined groundwaters outside its scope, the 1992 Water Convention covers all transboundary groundwaters, including confined aquifers.
  • The 1992 Water Convention allows Riparian Parties to limit the exchange of information between them on the basis of intellectual property rights, whereas the 1997 Watercourses Convention does not allow for such a limitation.



These differences do not however imply that the implementation of one Convention would impede the implementation of the other. They can be reconciled by way of interpretation in order to reinforce and strengthen the implementation of both instruments. In fact, these differences are instead a strength, allowing both instruments to be seen as a full package of norms where the more detailed provisions in one instrument can inform the implementation of the other. That complementarity was recognized by the former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who stressed in 2012 that “[t]hese two instruments are based on the same principles. They complement each other and should be implemented in a coherent manner.” In 2018, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called upon Member States “to join both Conventions and to strive for their full implementation”.

Source : https://unece.org/environment-policy/water/about-the-convention/faqs/3

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