Home > Climate change

Climate change

Small-scale fisheries, Malawi. Photo by Randall Brummett, 2002
Climate change poses new challenges to the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture systems, with serious implications for the 520 million people who depend on them for their livelihoods, and the nearly 3 billion people for whom fish is an important source of animal protein.
The key research questions and work being pursued by WorldFish to address these challenges aim to meet the following research objectives:
  1. Diagnose vulnerability;
  2. Understand coping mechanisms and adaptation to current climate risks;
  3. Contribute to mitigation; and
  4. Build the capacity to respond and adapt.
Through rigorous research on impacts, mitigation, and adaptation—combined with practical actions locally, nationally, regionally, and globally—WorldFish aims to provide new knowledge to inform solutions. High-quality research that involves resource users, builds strong partnerships and harnesses political will is crucial for making fisheries and aquaculture systems more resilient to the challenge of global climate change and securing a bright future for the people that depend upon them.    


Focus climate change responses where they are most needed by assessing and mapping the vulnerability of fishery- and aquaculture-dependent people and regions to the impacts of climate change. The questions being addressed are:
  • What is the nature and extent of vulnerability among these communities and regions?
  • How do other drivers of change influence vulnerability?

Examples of our work include:

  1. New Study First To Identify National Economies That Are Likely To Suffer Most As Climate Change Imperils Fisheries
    An examination of the vulnerability of 132 national economies to expected climate change impacts on their capture fisheries, using an indicator-based approach; highly vulnerable nations are primarily in Asia, Africa and Latin America and include many least developed countries.
  2. ReefBase
    An assessment of national and local dependence upon reefs and the implications for social vulnerability to climate change in the Coral Triangle, which spans Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste; here climate change poses serious threats to coral reefs.

In the Pacific and West Africa the Center is informing decision making under uncertainty by understanding the major drivers of change in fisheries production systems in the context of climate change through the development of future scenarios (link to report). Visit QUEST-Fish to see how indicator-based vulnerability assessments can be used to study how fisheries may respond to climate change under different population, trade, economic, and policy scenarios.

Adaptation to current climate risks

Inform adaption strategies by understand the complex ways in which fisheries and aquaculture have responded to past  and current climate variability as well as other ‘shocks’.

The questions being addressed:
Will currently successful responses be enough when changes occur in the future? Can we learn lessons from adaptations that failed in the past when natural disasters struck? Do short-term coping mechanisms get in the way of the long-term changes necessary?

Examples of our work include:

The development of a participatory, diagnostic, and adaptive management framework for small-scale fisheries (published in Fish and Fisheries Andrew et al. 2007) in tsunami-affected fishing communities in the Solomon Islands. Here the fisheries are already under a range of stresses, including overfishing, and face new threats such as climate-mediated impacts on coral reefs.

Working through the Challenge Program on Water and Food of the CGIAR to identify threats to fishing-dependent communities and help government partners design adaptive management strategies to strengthen livelihood resilience and improve water productivity in the Niger River Basin which has a long history of vulnerability to drought and reduced river flow. Adaptation of floodplain fishingcommunities to hydro-climatic changes in the Niger basin: lessons learned (link to report).


Contribute to climate change mitigation by identifying ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon in aquatic production systems.

The questions being addressed:
How can fisheries and aquaculture contribute to reducing greenhouse gas sources and emissions? What are the opportunities for using aquatic production systems as carbon sinks? To what extent can mitigation strategies enhance the sustainability of fisheries and aquaculture? What effects, positive and negative, will mitigation strategies adopted in other sectors likely have on fisheries and aquaculture?

Examples of our work include:

Advancing strategies to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released by promoting fuel efficient fishing vessels, recommending the removal of fuel subsidies and reducing overcapacity in the global fishing fleet. Coupled with a reduction in the release, WorldFish is also working on technologies to reduce levels of carbon dioxide by promoting the planting and conservation of mangroves.

Capacity to Respond

Build local, national and regional capacity to implement adaptation and mitigation strategies for fisheries and aquaculture by informing policy processes.

The questions being addressed:
How can lessons from adaptive responses (individual, household, enterprise, and community) around the world be effectively shared and applied to build resilience to climate change from the bottom up? What policy processes do fishery and aquaculture need to engage with to finance and implement adaptation? How can climate change adaptation and disaster risk management be effectively incorporated into fishery and aquaculture development and management planning?

Examples of our work include:

In  Malawi, research has shown that integrating ponds into smallholder farming systems increases food production and income during times of drought. Refining integrated aquaculture-agriculture technologies to improve water productivity and the cyclng of nutrients on farms, livelihoods resilient to  shocks like climate change can be fostered.

In Vietnam, as part of the World Bank  Economics of Adaptation to Climate  Change (EACC) study, the risks posed by climate change to the aquaculture sector and the costs of adaptation at the farm level were identified to inform sectoral adaptation planning.

Cyclone Sidr devastated southern Bangladesh in November 2007. Less than six months later cyclone Nargis battered the coast of Myanmar. These have raised the fear that climate change is making tropical cyclones and associated events such as tsunamis more frequent and intense. WorldFish has been working with fishing communities affected by these natural disasters, including in Aceh Province in Indonesia and the Solomon Islands in the Pacific, and demonstrated that livelihood diversification will be one key strategy for coping with future climate change. Further information on WorldFish’s work on rehabilitation following natural disasters.

In Africa  the WorldFish is and partners are implementing a project “Enhancing adaptive capacity to climate change impacts through well-managed water use for aquaculture integrated with small-scale irrigation in the Chinyanja Triangle in Africa“ (BMZ/GTZ) that is investigating the implications of the introduction of fish ponds in rural communities on the water balance of sub-catchments in the region, taking into account climate variability and change.

Climate change in the Lower Mekong Basin is expected to result in an increase in the frequency and severity of droughts, floods and saltwater intrusion. Such changes are expected to affect natural ecosystems, agriculture and food production, and also exacerbate the problems associated with supplying the region’s increased demand for food. The impacts of such changes are likely to be particularly severe on Lower Mekong Basin communities, given their strong reliance on natural resources for their livelihoods. The Mekong River Commission (MRC) launched the regional project on ‘Basin-wide climate change impact and vulnerability assessment of the wetlands of the Lower Mekong Basin for adaptation planning’ to help strengthen climate change adaptation planning and implementation in priority locations throughout the Lower Mekong Basin. WorldFish scientists are collaborating with MRC to conduct the basin-wide wetlands assessment by looking at the diverse mix of terrestrial and aquatic systems in the Lower Mekong Basin, and will quantify the threat posed by changes in hydrology and meteorology.