Compound climate risks threaten aquatic food system benefits (2021)

Tigchelaar, M., Cheung, W.W.L., Mohammed, E.Y. et al. Compound climate risks threaten aquatic food system benefits. Nat Food 2, 673–682 (2021). (open source)


  • Aquatic foods from marine and freshwater systems are critical to the nutrition, health, livelihoods, economies and cultures of billions of people worldwide, but climate-related hazards may compromise their ability to provide these benefits. Here, we estimate national-level aquatic food system climate risk using an integrative food systems approach that connects climate hazards impacting marine and freshwater capture fisheries and aquaculture to their contributions to sustainable food system outcomes.
  • We show that without mitigation, climate hazards pose high risks to nutritional, social, economic and environmental outcomes worldwide—especially for wild-capture fisheries in Africa, South and Southeast Asia, and Small Island Developing States. For countries projected to experience compound climate risks, reducing societal vulnerabilities can lower climate risk by margins similar to meeting Paris Agreement mitigation targets. System-level interventions addressing dimensions such as governance, gender equity and poverty are needed to enhance aquatic and terrestrial food system resilience and provide investments with large co-benefits towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

Fig. 3: Climate risk profiles based on differences in hazards, exposure and vulnerability across food system outcomes.

figure 3
  • On the basis of a cluster analysis, we identify four climate risk profiles for aquatic food system outcomes.
  • The profiles are based on the characteristics of countries that have ‘high’ or ‘very high’ climate risk for at least one food system outcome by mid-century under a high-emissions scenario.
  • The profile descriptions are based on median indicator values for each profile.
  • Individual countries within each cluster can deviate slightly from this characterization. SLR, sea level rise.

Results, excerpt from Towards climate-resilient aquatic foods

  • For countries with high marine fisheries dependence, including many SIDS, one of the challenges will be to design measures that strike an appropriate balance between supporting economic development aspirations through efficiency and revenue generation, and supporting food security through local and domestic consumption of fish (for example, climate-smart agreements for transboundary resources and the development of climate-resilient aquaculture for food security).
    • For countries where freshwater aquaculture contributes to poor environmental outcomes, solutions may target the adoption of integrated farming solutions or of technological innovations such as resource-efficient production systems that can be isolated from the environment.
    • In both contexts, solutions need support through enabling government policies, functional institutions at the national to community levels and sustainable, responsible financial investment.
  • Enhancing climate resilience for highly vulnerable countries facing compound climate risk—from freshwater and deltaic fisheries and aquaculture or from marine fisheries—is most challenging and urgent given that these countries are projected to have the greatest number of food system outcomes experiencing high climate risk.
    • For such countries, resilience efforts focused on aquatic food systems provide options (such as nature-based solutions (for example, mangrove, reef and seagrass restoration to aid coastal storm protection and enhance aquatic ecosystem productivity), sustainable intensification, livelihood diversification and investments in local value chains), but these efforts need to be part of a more generalized resilience framework that addresses the social dimensions of vulnerability (for example, through strengthening governance, promoting gender equity and reducing poverty).
    • Climate solutions that require public sector investments must be able to deliver both social and political gains to increase their acceptability to the public choice-maker. Ultimately, a generalized resilience approach means enhancing the capacity of coastal and riparian people to become the agents of societally desired systems transformation and to recognize aquatic food systems as integral to socio-economic development efforts and nutrition policies and overall food system resilience.

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