Economic costs of ocean acidification: a look into the impacts on global shellfish production


Ocean acidification is increasingly recognized as a major global problem. Yet economic assessments of its effects are currently almost absent. Unlike most other marine organisms, mollusks, which have significant commercial value worldwide, have relatively solid scientific evidence of biological impact of acidification and allow us to make such an economic evaluation. By performing a partial-equilibrium analysis, we estimate global and regional economic costs of production loss of mollusks due to ocean acidification. Our results show that the costs for the world as a whole could be over 100 billion USD with an assumption of increasing demand of mollusks with expected income growths combined with a business-as-usual emission trend towards the year 2100. The major determinants of cost levels are the impacts on the Chinese production, which is dominant in the world, and the expected demand increase of mollusks in today’s developing countries, which include China, in accordance with their future income rise. Our results have direct implications for climate policy. Because the ocean acidifies faster than the atmosphere warms, the acidification effects on mollusks would raise the social cost of carbon more strongly than the estimated damage adds to the damage costs of climate change.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4


  1. 1.

    The Oxford Dictionary of English (2nd ed.) defines shellfish as “an aquatic shelled mollusk (e.g., an oyster or cockle) or a crustacean (e.g., a crab or shrimp), especially one that is edible.”

  2. 2.

    Without any external protective mechanism (e.g., coating), dissolution occurs when Ω < 1.

  3. 3.

    Hendriks et al. (2010) also offer a meta-analysis of ocean acidification impacts. However, Kroeker et al. point out that Hendriks et al. do not use the standard methods of meta-analysis, which standardize studies for precision, account for variation between studies, and test for heterogeneity in effect sizes. Still, as for calcification by bivalves (a group of mollusks), Hendriks et al.’s estimates also show strong negative effects of ocean acidification in the future.

  4. 4.

    Despite the use of the same proxy for acidification damage, their estimates are significantly different from ours as they base their analysis on a different study published earlier (Gazeau et al. 2007: the loss rate is 10–25%).

  5. 5.

    They report their results in the following ln-transformed response ratio\( LnRR = \ln (R) = \ln \left( {{{\bar{X}}_E}} \right) - \ln \left( {{{\bar{X}}_C}} \right) \), where \( {\bar{X}_E} \), \( {\bar{X}_C} \)are the mean response in the experimental and control treatments, respectively. We use numbers converted from logarithmic rates into percentages, whose conversion is made by ourselves.

  6. 6.

  7. 7.

  8. 8.

    The FAO dataset contains another category of mollusks, “freshwater mollusks.” We excluded this category from our analysis because it is not clear whether ocean acidification could cause any effect on freshwater organisms.

  9. 9.

    Cephalopods (octopuses, squids, etc.) are excluded from this category.

  10. 10.

    In total there are 37 regions. IMPACT regional categories omit a number of small island nations, but the combined production quantities of mollusks from those countries are not negligible. To address this problem, we set up an additional regional category named “Other Small Island States.” The results that we present in the Appendix contain our estimates for that region as well. The following are categorized as “Other Small Island States”: American Samoa, Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Cook Islands, Kiribati, New Caledonia, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, St. Pierre and Miquelon, and Tonga.

  11. 11.

    According to the IMPACT model this includes Canada, Iceland, Israel, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, and Switzerland.

  12. 12.

    Categorized as “High Value Other Aquaculture” and “High Value Other Capture” in IMPACT.

  13. 13.

    Values are set region by region and lie in the range of [0.15, 0.65].

  14. 14.

    Values are set region by region and lie in the ranges of [−1.11, −0.77] for the demand elasticity and of [0.2, 0.4] for the supply elasticity.

  15. 15.

    Estimates based on Gaffin et al.’s projections show basically the same features. Estimated figures are presented in the Appendix.

  16. 16.

    D (%) = 2.46*(ΔT) – 1.11*(ΔT)2. See Fig. 1 of Tol (2009).


  1. Brander L, Rehdanz K, Tol R, van Beukering P (2009) The economic impact of ocean acidification on coral reefs. ESRI Working Paper 282. Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin

    Google Scholar 

  2. Burnett LE (1997) The challenges of living in hypoxic and hypercapnic aquatic environments. Integr Comp Biol 37:633–640

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Caldeira K, Wickett ME (2003) Anthropogenic carbon and ocean pH. Nature 425:365

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. Caldeira K, Wickett ME (2005) Ocean model predictions of chemistry changes from carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere and ocean. J Geophys Res 110:C09S04. doi:10.1029/2004JC002671

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Cooley SR, Doney SC (2009) Anticipating ocean acidification’s economic consequences for commercial fisheries. Environ Res Lett 4:024007. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/4/2/024007

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. Delgado CL, Wada N, Rosegrant MW, Meijer S, Ahmed M (2003) Fish to 2020: Supply and Demand in Changing Global Markets. International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington D.C., and WorldFish Center, Penang, Malaysia

    Google Scholar 

  7. Dey, MM. et al. (2008) Strategies and options for increasing and sustaining fisheries and aquaculture production to benefit poorer households in Asia. WorldFish Center Studies and Reviews No. 1823. The WorldFish Center, Penang, Malaysia

  8. Doney SC, Fabry VJ, Feely RA, Kleypas JA (2009) Ocean acidification: The other CO2 problem. Annual Review of Marine Science 1:169–192

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. FAO (2008) FAO Yearbook 2006: Fishery and Aquaculture Statistics. FAO, Rome

    Google Scholar 

  10. FAO (2010) The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2010. FAO, Rome

    Google Scholar 

  11. Feely RA, Sabine CL, Hernandez-Ayon JM, Ianson D, Hales B (2008) Evidence for upwelling of corrosive “acidified” water onto the continental shelf. Science 320:1490–1492

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Gaffin S, Rosenzweig C, Xing X, Yetman G (2004) Downscaling and geo-spatial gridding of socio-economic projections from the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios (SRES). Glob Environ Chang 14(2):105–123

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Gazeau F, Quiblier C, Jansen JM, Gattuso J-P, Middelburg JJ, Heip CHR (2007) Impact of elevated CO2 on shellfish calcification. Geophys Res Lett 34:L07603. doi:10.1029/2006GL028554

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Hendriks IE, Duarte CM, Álvarez M (2010) Vulnerability of marine biodiversity to ocean acidification: A meta-analysis, Estuarine. Coastal and Shelf Science 86(2):157–164

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. IPCC, 2001. IPCC Third Assessment Report.

  16. Kroeker KJ, Kordas RL, Crim RN, Singh GG (2010) Meta-analysis reveals negative yet variable effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms. Ecol Lett 13(11):1419–1434

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Lischka S, Büdenbender J, Boxhammer T, Riebesell U (2011) Impact of ocean acidification and elevated temperatures on early juveniles of the polar shelled pteropod Limacina helicina: mortality, shell degradation, and shell growth. Biogeosciences 8:919–932

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Michaelidis B, Ouzounis C, Paleras A, Pörtner HO (2005) Effects of long-term moderate hypercapnia on acid–base balance and growth rate in marine mussels Mytilus galloprovincialis. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 293:109–118

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Nordhaus W (2008) A Question of Balance: Weighing the Options on Global Warming Policies. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT

    Google Scholar 

  20. Orr JC et al (2005) Anthropogenic ocean acidification over the twenty-first century and its impact on calcifying organisms. Nature 437:681–685

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Pillay TVR, Kutty MN (2005) Aquaculture: Principles and Practices, 2nd edn. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford

    Google Scholar 

  22. Ries JB, Cohen AL, McCorkle DC (2009) Marine calcifiers exhibit mixed responses to CO2-induced ocean acidification. Geology 37:1131–1134

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Rosegrant MW, Cline SA (2003) Global food security: Challenges and policies. Science 302:1917–1919

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Sabine CL et al (2004) The oceanic sink for anthropogenic CO2. Science 305(5682):367–371

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Stern N (2006) The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  26. Sunday JM, Crim RN, Harley CDG, Hart MW (2011) Quantifying Rates of Evolutionary Adaptation in Response to Ocean Acidification. PLoS One 6(8):e22881. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022881

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Thomsen J, Gutowska MA, Saphörster J, Heinemann A, Fietzke J, Hiebenthal C, Eisenhauer A, Körtzinger A, Wahl M, Melzner F (2010) Calcifying invertebrates succeed in a naturally CO2 enriched coastal habitat but are threatened by high levels of future acidification. Biogeosciences 7:3879–3891

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. Tol RSJ (2002) Estimates of the damage costs of climate change, part 1: Benchmark estimates. Environ Resour Econ 21(2):47–73

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. Tol RSJ (2009) The economic effects of climate change. J Econ Perspect 23(2):29–51

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Tunnicliffe V, Davies KTA, Butterfield DA, Embley RW, Rose JM, Chadwick WW Jr (2009) Survival of mussels in extremely acidic waters on a submarine volcano. Nat Geosci 2:344–348

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Van Vuuren DP, Lucas PL, Hilderink H (2007) Downscaling drivers of global environmental change: Enabling use of global SRES scenarios at the national and grid levels. Glob Environ Chang 17:114–130

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references


We are grateful to Frank Melzner from IFM-Geomar for helpful comments and to Siwa Msangi for the provision of IMPACT parameterization data. Alvaro Calzadilla offered us valuable suggestions on GDP projections. We thank Hanno Heitmann, Niko Mehl and Andreas Bernetzeder for research assistance, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful suggestions. Financial support by the German Research Foundation (the “Future Ocean” Cluster of Excellence program) is gratefully acknowledged.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Daiju Narita.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.


(DOCX 61 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Narita, D., Rehdanz, K. & Tol, R.S.J. Economic costs of ocean acidification: a look into the impacts on global shellfish production. Climatic Change 113, 1049–1063 (2012).

Download citation


  • Mollusk
  • Consumer Surplus
  • Ocean Acidification
  • Bivalve Mollusk
  • Marine Mollusk