In this paper we use a case study of the Rhine River to examine the relevance of Common Pool Resource (CPR) Theory for two conditions in which it has not been extensively tested: large scale international water management and pollution problems. For that purpose, we link variation in pollution abatement to a set of explanatory variables proposed by CPR theory. Causal inference is established through process tracing and a series of within-case comparison across actor groups (i.e. riparian nations, industry, and agriculture), resource types (i.e. point source, and non-point source pollutants), and time periods (1976–1986, when treaties provided a limited basis for collective action and pollution abatement, and 1987–2001, when the Rhine Action Plan proved more successful). According to our analysis, a number of CPR variables can help understanding cooperation for pollution abatement in the Rhine case. These include physical attributes such as clear hydrological boundaries; governance factors such as the articulation of monitoring and decision-making at different governance levels and the proportional allocation of costs and benefits of abating pollution; and actor factors like the small size, trust and homogeneity of some actor groups and leadership. Other variables proposed by CPR theory proved to be irrelevant or in need of qualification. These include the right to self-organize and to participate in decision-making, communication and resource-dependence. Finally, two variables, not emphasized by CPR theory, proved relevant: the occurrence of external disturbances and the role of interest groups. We conclude that CPR theory is valuable for explaining pollution management in large transboundary river basins, but requires qualification and extension.
- Common-Pool Resource theory
- Transboundary watershed