Governance of Transboundary Water Commissions:: Comparison of Operationalizing the Ecosystem Approach in the North American Great Lakes and the Baltic Sea.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


he Laurentian Great Lakes and the Baltic Sea are two large transboundary water systems in North America and Europe respectively. Despite the geopolitical, geographical and ecological differences, these water bodies share a similar history, with each signing transboundary governance agreement in the early 1970s due to concerns of water pollution. In 1972, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement was signed between Canada and the United States of America amidst concerns about the ‘dying’ Lake Erie. This led to the new role under the Agreement for the International Joint Commission (IJC), the transboundary institution tasked with oversight of this agreement. At the same time in Europe, during a period of détente in the Cold War era enhancing a revival of a state centred international organization system (with for example the creation of OSSE), negotiations were ongoing for a transboundary agreement amidst concerns about increasing pollution to the Baltic Seas. This culminated in a transboundary water agreement in 1974, the Helsinki Convention, which established the Helsinki Commission (HELCOM) as the coordinating body. Whilst these commissions can be seen as successes because they were effective in bringing the key national players to the table, the continued degradation of these transboundary water ecosystems would suggest that they are not successful in applying the ecosystem approach to governance, as called for in both transboundary agreements. The ecosystem approach is a useful approach for transboundary water governance as it looks beyond the political boundaries and more at natural boundaries, offering an integrated approach for the management of land, water and living organisms. This chapter investigates the effectiveness of these transboundary water commissions in operationalizing the ecosystem based approach to governance by assessing their adaptive capacity, the governance capacity for dealing with change. It starts by looking at the evolution of these commissions, it uses a framework for adaptive capacity from the literature and assesses the performance of these transboundary commissions against these principles. It then identifies gaps and makes recommendations that can inform policymakers.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Title of host publicationLake Governance
EditorsVelma I Grover, Gail Krantzberg
PublisherCRC Press
ISBN (Electronic)9781315206943
ISBN (Print)978-1-138-63375-9
Publication statusPublished - 2018
MoE publication typeA3 Part of a book or another research book


  • Baltic sea
  • North American Great Lakes
  • transboundary water governance

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