A major report from the International Joint Commission comes in threes this year.
Three years of work by the Canadian and United States governments and three recommendations from the IJC are covered in the 2023 Third Triennial Assessment of Progress on Great Lakes Water Quality, also known as TAP.
Published every three years, the TAP report is the IJC’s review of progress that the governments, or Parties, have made toward achieving objectives of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The 2023 TAP, released through a bilingual, public virtual news conference on November 9, covers progress from 2020 to 2022.
As with previous TAPs, the 2023 report includes recommendations for governments to address Great Lakes water quality issues.
The Commission recommends that the Parties:
• Ensure that First Nations, Métis and Tribal governments are full, active partners in the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement review process to better empower Indigenous engagement and leadership on Great Lakes water quality issues.
Engagement with First Nations, Metis and Tribal governments is key to the effective implementation of the Agreement. Under the Agreement, following every third TAP report issued by the Commission, the Parties “shall review the operation and effectiveness” of the Agreement. The anticipated review provides an opportunity to better empower Indigenous engagement and leadership on Great Lakes water quality issues.
The Agreement outlines that the Parties will determine the scope and nature of the review, taking into account the views of First Nations, Métis and Tribal governments. To elevate Indigenous voices, the Parties should collaborate with Indigenous governments as active partners in this review process and any future processes to amend the Agreement. This should be done in a transparent and mutually agreed-upon manner, so Indigenous voices are involved on their own preferred terms.
• Increase climate resiliency throughout the region by developing basinwide goals, adopting transparent accountable performance metrics and working to achieve them with local, regional and provincial governments, regional watershed authorities and other stakeholders.
The Parties continue to identify, assess and predict climate change impacts on Great Lakes water quality. However, a more deliberate focus on adaptation and resiliency is needed across all levels of government.
The IJC recommends that, as Lakewide Action and Management Plans are updated, new plans include climate resiliency goals that are scalable and achievable for multiple levels of government. While the Parties provide critical leadership and assistance, the responsibility for watershed planning and activities to monitor and restore watersheds and coastal resilience lies with state, provincial and local governments. Local and regional entities should be better enabled to prepare and implement climate resiliency measures.
• Support and actively participate in the development of a 10-year Great Lakes Science Plan.
In 2022, the IJC’s Great Lakes Science Advisory Board published its Great Lakes Science Strategy for the Next Decade. The report outlines six interrelated priority areas where investments would address science gaps and enhance our understanding how the Great Lakes system functions, and how it may respond to changes and interventions.
The board is convening partners, including representatives from Canadian and US governments, First Nations, Métis and Tribal governments, academia and non-governmental organizations, to define the management, funding and governance structures needed to transform the strategy into a Great Lakes Science Plan.
The Parties’ support for, and active participation in developing the plan is essential to ensure the feasibility of this bold, forward-looking initiative.
The 2023 TAP report’s three recommendations call for greater collaboration on Great Lakes water quality governance and issues, and support for science.
A role for everyone
The governments decide if and to what extent these recommendations will be implemented. The IJC looks forward to seeing continued progress on addressing Great Lakes water quality issues. While our recommendations are directed at the Parties, this report calls for a range of government and non-government entities to be involved in their implementation. There is a role for everyone to play in protecting the Great Lakes.
Rachel Wyatt is the communications officer at the IJC’s Great Lakes Regional Office.