In previous versions of the agreement, the IJC was required to report every two years on the progress made by Canada and the United States in restoring and protecting lakes. It met every two years to find out whether local citizens – including citizens of non-governmental organizations, government agencies, universities and indigenous communities – felt that the lakes would improve or worsen, and combined this entry with its own assessments to publish reports every two years, the last of which was published in April 2013. This 16th Biennale report contained more than 40 recommendations regarding the new 2012 version of the agreement. As part of the agreement, Canada and the United States are working, in cooperation and consultation with other levels of government, Aboriginal peoples, non-governmental institutions and the public to restore and protect water quality and ecosystem health. As part of the agreement, Canada and the United States (the contracting parties) are committed to working towards a number of broad and specific objectives related to the quality of Great Lakes water quality. Until 1978, the two countries expanded their approach to combating the many sources and types of pollution in lakes. The 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement set itself the goal of ridding the Great Lakes of persistent toxic substances – pollutants that come from many sources and can harm the health of all species because they remain in the environment for a long time, with an approach that takes into account the entire ecosystem. A 1987 protocol to the 1978 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement added specific efforts to rehabilitate the most polluted areas of watersheds, known as „Areas of Concern,“ and to develop management plans for the elimination of pollutants at sea level. The IJC was tasked with assessing progress in achieving the 1972 and 1978 objectives every two years and held meetings every two years before concluding each biannual report on the progress of the work. Since the last amendment to the agreement in 1987, approaches to environmental management and our understanding of the ecosystem have evolved. The 2012 agreement reflects this progress by introducing a new focus on coastal water quality and adaptive management approaches.
The 2012 agreement will help the United States and Canada jeopardize the water quality of the Great Lakes and strengthen measures to anticipate and prevent environmental damage. The new provisions address invasive aquatic species, habitat degradation and the effects of climate change and support further work on existing threats to the health and environment of Great Lakes Basin populations, such as harmful algae, toxic chemicals and ship releases.