EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Evolutionary cooperation in transboundary river basins

Yang Yu1,2, Pngzhong Tang3, Jianshi Zhao1, Bo Liu1,4, and Dennis Mclaughlin2
Yang Yu et al.
  • 1Institute of Hydrology and Water Resources (IHWR), Department of Hydraulic Engineering, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China (
  • 2Parsons Laboratory, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Massachusetts 6 Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA
  • 3Institute for Interdisciplinary Information Sciences, Tsinghua University, Beijing, China
  • 4International Economic and Technical Cooperation and Exchange Center, Ministry of Water 9 Resources of China, Beijing, China

Cooperation in transboundary river basins can make water resources systems more efficient and benefit riparian stakeholders. However, in a basin with upstream and downstream stakeholders that have different interests, non-cooperative outcomes have often been observed. These can be described by a one shot prisoners’ dilemma game where non-cooperation (defection) is a dominant equilibrium strategy. However, cooperative outcomes have also been observed in several transboundary settings, such as the Lancang-Mekong River Basin (LMRB) in Asia. Such cooperation motivates our research effort to refine relevant game theoretic descriptions to account for the evolution of players’ behaviors, from conflict to cooperation. In this study, a repeated game model is proposed to analyze evolutionary transboundary cooperation. A generalized evolutionary cooperation pattern with four stages is summarized, starting with non-cooperation and ending with in-depth cooperation. The LMRB and three other typical transboundary river management case studies are chosen to validate our theoretical findings. Upstream and downstream stakeholder behaviors are analyzed for these case studies, in accordance with a game payoff matrix that accounts for incentives to cooperate. The results indicate that patience and incremental benefits can lead stakeholders to adopt a cooperative equilibrium strategy if appropriate institutional mechanisms are in place. Such mechanisms can be developed through negotiations that recognize the wide range of stakeholder interests that may influence the decision to cooperate. Our analysis suggests that game theory can provide useful insights into the conditions and institutional mechanisms that foster cooperative strategies for managing transboundary water resources.

How to cite: Yu, Y., Tang, P., Zhao, J., Liu, B., and Mclaughlin, D.: Evolutionary cooperation in transboundary river basins, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-1363,, 2019