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Open Access Sustainable management of freshwater resources: Linking international water law and the Sustainable Development Goals

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This article is Open Access under the terms of the Creative Commons CC BY licence.

Ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water for all by 2030 is one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015. Sustainable management of freshwater resources happens to be a purpose of international water law as well. This paper explains how the legal compliance mechanism of international water law and the extralegal compliance mechanism of the SDGs can be jointly harnessed to more compellingly encourage all states in the world to manage their freshwater resources in a sustainable way.

This paper demonstrates how the extralegal compliance mechanism of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular as it is applied to sustainable freshwater management (SDG 6, 12, and 15), complements the legal compliance mechanism of international water law, thereby contributing to the resolution of one of the most pressing environmental problems in today’s world: the sustainable management of freshwater resources. The SDG targets, commitments, progress indicators, and reporting obligations relating to the sustainable management of freshwater resources are paired with provisions from the Law of the Non-navigational Uses of International Watercourses (UNWC) and the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (UNECE Convention). The main idea is that the above-mentioned treaties and the SDGs can strengthen each other’s compliance pull when paired in this way. The paper zooms in on the SDG targets and international water law provisions relating to 1. the sustainable management of freshwater resources, 2. the prevention of freshwater pollution, and 3. the protection and restoration of freshwater ecosystems.
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Keywords: Sustainable Development Goals; compliance; freshwater; international water law; sustainable development

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2019

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  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

    Environmental problems cannot be solved by one academic discipline. The complex natures of these problems require cooperation across disciplinary boundaries. Since 1991, GAIA has offered a well-balanced and practice-oriented forum for transdisciplinary research. GAIA offers first-hand information on state of the art environmental research and on current solutions to environmental problems. Well-known editors, advisors, and authors work to ensure the high quality of the contributions found in GAIA and a unique transdisciplinary dialogue – in a comprehensible style.

    GAIA is an ISI-journal, listed in the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Science Citation Index and in Current Contents/Social and Behavioral Sciences.

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