This paper is part of the special publication Gas hydrates: relevance to world margin stability and climatic change (eds J.P. Henriet and J. Mienert).Natural gas hydrates occur world-wide in polar regions, usually associated with onshore and offshore permafrost, and in sediment of outer continental and insular margins. The total amount of methane in gas hydrates probably exceeds 1019 g of methane carbon. Three aspects of gas hydrates are important: their fossil fuel resource potential; their role as a submarine geohazard; and their effects on global climate change. Because gas hydrates represent a large amount of methane within 2000 m of the Earth's surface, they are considered to be an unconventional, unproven source of fossil fuel. Because gas hydrates are metastable, changes of pressure and temperature affect their stability. Destabilized gas hydrates beneath the sea floor lead to geological hazards such as submarine slumps and slides, examples of which are found world-wide. Destabilized gas hydrates may also affect climate through the release of methane, a 'greenhouse' gas, which may enhance global warming and be a factor in global climate change.