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

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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.

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

  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. 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. 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.



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

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

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

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

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

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


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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.

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Correspondence to Daiju Narita.

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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).

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