Palaeo-dust records in sediments and ice cores show that wind-borne mineral aerosol (‘dust’) is strongly linked with climate state. During glacial climate stages, for example, the world was much dustier, with dust fluxes two to five times greater than in interglacial stages. However, the influence of dust on climate remains a poorly quantified and actively changing element of the Earth's climate system. Dust can influence climate directly, by the scattering and absorption of solar and terrestrial radiation, and indirectly, by modifying cloud properties. Dust transported to the oceans can also affect climate via ocean fertilization in those regions of the world's oceans where macronutrients like nitrate are abundant but primary production and nitrogen fixation are limited by iron scarcity. Dust containing iron, as fine-grained iron oxides/oxyhydroxides and/or within clay minerals, and other essential micronutrients (e.g. silica) may modulate the uptake of carbon in marine ecosystems and, in turn, the atmospheric concentration of CO2. Here, in order to critically examine past fluxes and possible climate impacts of dust in general and iron-bearing dust in particular, we consider present-day sources and properties of dust, synthesise available records of dust deposition at the last glacial maximum (LGM); evaluate the evidence for changes in ocean palaeo-productivity associated with, and possibly caused by, changes in aeolian flux to the oceans at the LGM; and consider the radiative forcing effects of increased LGM dust loadings.