Lake ecosystems are deeply integrated into local and regional economies through recreation, tourism, and as sources of food and drinking water. Shifts in lake phytoplankton biomass, which are mediated by climate warming will alter these benefits with potential cascading effects on human well-being. The metabolic theory of ecology suggests that warming reduces lake phytoplankton biomass as basal metabolic costs increase, but this hypothesis has not been tested at the global scale. We use satellite-based estimates of lake surface temperature (LST) and lake surface chlorophyll-a concentration (chl-a; as a proxy for phytoplankton biomass) in 188 of the world’s largest lakes from 2002-2016 to test for interannual associations between chl-a and LST. In contrast to predictions from metabolic ecology, we found that LST and chl-a were positively correlated in 46% of lakes (p < 0.05). The associations between LST and chl-a depended on lake trophic state; warming tended to increase chl-a in phytoplankton-rich lakes and decrease chl-a in phytoplankton-poor lakes. We attribute the opposing responses of chl-a to LST to the effects of temperature on trophic interactions, and the availability of resources to phytoplankton. These patterns provide insights into how climate warming alters lake ecosystems on which millions of people depend for their livelihoods.