Addressing conflict over dams: the inception and establishment of the World Commission on Dams

Christopher Schulz*, William M. Adams

*Corresponding author for this work

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The World Commission on Dams (WCD) was active between 1998 and 2000. Despite the Commission’s short life, it left a lasting mark on the global debate on large dams, one of the most intractable and conflicted issues in environmental governance. Existing accounts of the Commission focus chiefly on its recommendations and their influence on dam planners, or the novelty of making global environmental policy through multi-stakeholder dialogue, not intergovernmental negotiation. This focus on technicalities, results, and institutional design underplays the Commission’s political significance. It was a bold and innovative attempt to find common ground between promoters and opponents of dams on which a new way of thinking about and planning dams could be built. In this paper, we focus on the emergence of the Commission, in response to the evolving conflict over dams, particularly between the World Bank and its critics. We explore the processes that led to the establishment of the Commission and its role as an attempt to transform conflict into cooperation by bringing together pro- and anti-dam communities.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)289-308
JournalWater History
Issue number3
Early online date1 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022


  • Development planning
  • Dam construction
  • Environmental movements
  • IUCN
  • Large dams
  • World Bank


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