Modeling studies examining the effect of lakes on regional and global climate, as well as studies on the influence of climate variability and change on aquatic ecosystems, are surveyed. Fully coupled atmosphere–land surface–lake climate models that could be used for both of these types of study simultaneously do not presently exist, though there are many applications that would benefit from such models. It is argued here that current understanding of physical and biogeochemical processes in freshwater systems is sufficient to begin to construct such models, and a path forward is proposed. The largest impediment to fully representing lakes in the climate system lies in the handling of lakes that are too small to be explicitly resolved by the climate model, and that make up the majority of the lake-covered area at the resolutions currently used by global and regional climate models. Ongoing development within the hydrological sciences community and continual improvements in model resolution should help ameliorate this issue.