Works of art. History. Cultural heritage. The market. Galleries. Art fairs. Museums. Private museums. Institutional and private collections. Fiduciary care. Value.
Let’s consider a pressing issue:
How collections are housed, managed, and cared for and the protection of works of art and tangible assets in an age of increasingly erratic weather, increasing sea-level rise, floods, fires, storms, … and pandemics – which in themselves and the response to which can be devastating.
Does one barricade the art behind flood walls and barriers? Insure the works of art? (Insurance is a good idea. Insurance does not, however, mitigate or prevent future damage. Insurance is used to protect the “value” of the art, not the work of art itself. It is used after damage occurs to recover value.)
Can we protect works of art while mitigating possible future damage?
Atmospheric CO2 is a key factor leading towards the storms, floods, and fires that can be so damaging to art and tangible assets. Is it possible to care for our collections while reducing emissions of CO2 into the air?
The Bizot Group of museum directors, or the International Group of Organizers of Large-scale Exhibitions, thinks so.
The directors agree that museums can reduce the amount of CO2 emissions they are responsible for while recognizing their duty of care to collections:
1. Guiding Principles Museums should review policy and practice, particularly regarding loan requirements, storage and display conditions, and building design and air conditioning systems, with a view to reducing carbon footprints.
Museums need to find ways to reconcile the desirability of long-term preservation of collections with the need to reduce energy use.
Museums should apply whatever methodology or strategies best suit their collections, building and needs, and innovative approaches should be encouraged.
The care of objects is paramount. Subject to this,
environmental standards should become more intelligent and better tailored to specific needs. Blanket conditions should no longer apply. Instead conditions should be determined by the requirements of individual objects or groups of objects and the climate in the part of the world in which the museum is located;
where appropriate, care of collections should be achieved in a way that does not assume air conditioning or other high energy cost solutions. Passive methods, simple technology that is easy to maintain, and lower energy solutions should be considered;
natural and sustainable environmental controls should be explored and exploited fully;
when designing and constructing new buildings or renovating old ones, architects and engineers should be guided significantly to reduce the building’s carbon footprint as a key objective;
the design and build of exhibitions should be managed to mimimise waste and recycle where possible.
2. Guidelines For many classes of object containing hygroscopic material (such as canvas paintings, textiles, ethnographic objects or animal glue) a stable relative humidity (RH) is required in the range of 40 – 60% and a stable temperature in the range 16-25°C with fluctuations of no more than ±10% RH per 24 hours within this range. More sensitive objects will require specific and tighter RH control, depending on the materials, condition, and history of the work of art. A conservators evaluation is essential in establishing the appropriate environmental conditions for works of art requested for loan.
Across the world, millions of people have tested positive for Covid-19 – and countless more have seen their lifestyles completely transformed as a result of the virus.
It is not yet known exactly what triggered the current outbreak, but researchers suspect that the virus passed from bats to humans through an unknown intermediary animal, possibly a pangolin.
Politicians in the UK have called this pandemic a “once-in-a-century” crisis. But scientists have warned that the ongoing disturbance of species through human activities and climate change could be raising the risk of potentially pandemic-causing diseases passing from animals to humans.
The study of the “spillover” of disease from animals to humans has received renewed focus in light of the pandemic. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a major international collaboration of climate scientists – is now looking into how the influence of warming on such events could be included in its next major climate report due next year.
In this explainer, Carbon Brief examines what is known about how climate change and biodiversity disturbance, including habitat loss and human-animal conflict, could influence the risk of diseases being transmitted from animals to humans.
How does an animal-to-human disease spillover turn to a pandemic?
When humans come into contact with other animals, they can pass harmful pathogens between one another. The passing of an infection or disease from a vertebrate animal to a human is known as a “zoonosis”, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). (Vertebrate animals include mammals, birds and reptiles, but not insects, such as mosquitoes.)
Such diseases have a major impact on health, accounting for two-thirds of all human infectious diseases and three out of four newly emerging diseases.
Serious diseases that have spilled over from animals to humans include Ebola in Africa, Marburg in Europe (and subsequently in Africa), Hendra virus in Australia and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus and Nipah virus in east Asia. Some have gone on to have a lasting, global impact, such as HIV/AIDS and swine flu (H1N1). The current Covid-19 pandemic was also most likely caused by a spillover.
The number of potentially harmful viruses circulating in mammal and bird populations that have not yet spilled over to humans is estimated to be up to 1.7m, according to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). (IPBES is an independent group of international researchers monitoring biodiversity issues).
The spillover of disease from animals to people can happen in many ways, including directly through animal bites, the consumption of raw or undercooked animal meat or products such as milk, or through contaminated water. Diseases can also spread indirectly if humans come into contact with a surface that has been contaminated by an infected animal. Both wild animals and livestock can pass on disease.
(Sometimes, transmission occurs through an intermediary species that can carry the disease without getting sick. Scientists suspect this is how the Covid-19 pandemic started.)
Out in the wild and in settings where humans and animals come into contact, these kinds of interactions happen regularly – and it is rare for one to end with a human being infected by a new disease, explains Dr David Redding, a research fellow at the Zoological Society of London. He tells Carbon Brief:
“There are lots of different factors that need to all overlap at the same time for there to be a contact that is both effective in terms of transferring a live pathogenic organism and then also for that very rare situation where that pathogen has an adaptation that allows it to invade our immune system.”
Even if a disease is effectively transmitted from an animal to a person, it is unlikely that they will then pass it on to someone else, he adds:
“I would say most – possibly 99% – of all diseases that are caused in that way can’t then be passed on. So we’ve got another ‘filter’ that dictates that people have to be infected in a particular way that allows them to shed viruses effectively to other people.”
This “virus shedding” can happen in various ways. Like other respiratory diseases, Covid-19 can be transmitted when a carrier coughs or sneezes in close proximity to another person. (Scientists are still debating whether the virus can also be passed on in other ways.)
The ability of the new pathogen to spread directly from person to person is a key ingredient for a disease to take hold in a population, Redding says. (Some animal-borne diseases require a vector to spread from person to person, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease.)
An illness outbreak is said to become an “epidemic” when its impact on people in a single community or region is “clearly in excess of normal expectancy”, according to the WHO. The term “pandemic” describes the worldwide spread of a new disease. (When a disease is “endemic” it has a continuous presence in a population or area.)
Since 1900, there have been pandemics at “intervals of several decades”, according to the WHO. The worst in this time period was Spanish flu, which killed an estimated 50 million people from 1918-19.
Prior to Covid-19, every outbreak considered to be a pandemic by the WHO since 1900 has been caused by influenza, a virus that transmits from person to person. Some new strains of flu originate in animals, such as bird flu, but most new strains arise in human populations – and so would not be considered animal-borne.
There are many factors that can determine whether an outbreak reaches epidemic or pandemic status. These include human factors, such as preparedness and early action to prevent the illness from spreading, and also the traits of the pathogen itself, says Redding:
“The characteristics of the pathogen and its ability to spread are two key components in causing these rare events.”
For instance, if the pathogen causes very severe illness, the sufferer is less likely to be able to travel to a new place to pass on the disease, Redding says. This is also the case if the mortality rate is particularly high.
In contrast, if the disease causes mild to undetectable symptoms for at least some sufferers – as is the case with Covid-19 – it is more likely that people will inadvertently spread it to new places, he says.
This may go some way to explaining why previous serious animal-borne disease outbreaks have not reached pandemic status, Redding explains.
For example, Ebola – a disease initially spread to humans by fruit bats – has caused several serious epidemics in West Africa, but has not established itself on a worldwide scale. It has a mortality rate of around 50%. The mortality rate of Covid-19 is not yet known, though it is likely to be below 10%.
It is also worth noting that the likelihood of a disease turning to a pandemic has been heightened in recent decades by increased global connectivity, particularly through frequent air travel, Redding says:
“Plagues in the medieval times took years to spread across Asia. Whereas we look at today’s outbreaks and we can see that they can spread in hours.”
Overall, for a spillover event to turn into a pandemic, there must be a “perfect storm” of several complex factors all occurring at the same time – which, at present, does not happen very often, says Redding: “I think history shows us that these sort of large outbreaks happen a couple of times a century.”
Could climate change and biodiversity disturbance affect the risk of spillover?
Every new animal-borne disease starts with humans coming into contact with wildlife. And it is likely that climate change and the disturbance of biodiversity could play a role in shaping the frequency, timing and location of these meetings, says Prof Hans-Otto Poertner, head of biosciences at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) and co-chair of the impacts chapter of the next major assessment report from the IPCC. He tells Carbon Brief:
“Climate change is clearly a factor that can influence these relationships. Climate change shapes the biogeographical distribution of species. If, in the future, we see species moving into areas where humans are prevalent, we could see new opportunities for pandemics to evolve.”
Research has shown that climate change is shifting where species live, both on land and in the ocean. This is because, as temperatures increase and rainfall levels change, some species are being forced to seek out new areas with climate conditions they are able to tolerate. (Species that are not able to adapt could face extinction.)
A review published in Science in 2017 looking into 40,000 species across the world found that around half are already on the move as a result of changing climate conditions.
In general, species are seeking cooler temperatures by moving towards the Earth’s poles. Land animals are moving polewards at an average rate of 10 miles per decade, whereas marine species are moving at a rate of 45 miles per decade, according to the review.
However, the movement of animals is complicated by other factors, such as the changing availability of food, the shifting distribution of predators and changing patterns of human land-use, the review says. This makes it difficult to predict exactly where species will move to.
It is likely that the movement of species will have consequences for human health, says Prof Birgitta Evengard, a senior researcher of infectious diseases at Umea University in Sweden, who was one of the authors of the review. She tells Carbon Brief:
“When land-based animals move, they bring with them their [viruses] – and they will spread them.”
So far, there has not been a great deal of research into how climate change-driven shifts to animal ranges could affect the chances of disease spillover on a global scale, says Poertner.
In one example, a research paper by Redding found that climate change could heighten the risk of new Ebola outbreaks in various parts of Africa by 2070.
This is because climate change could cause regions that are currently desert to become warmer and wetter, leading to the formation of the lush plants that bats use as a habitat. The movement of bats into these new areas could increase contact between them and humans, increasing the chances of disease spillover, the study found.
Another study found that climate change could enhance the risk of spillover of the Hendra virus, an animal-borne disease that can pass from flying foxes to humans through horses, which are also affected by the virus.
The virus was first identified when an outbreak broke out in Hendra, a suburb in Brisbane, Australia, in 1994. Since then, there have been at least eight separate outbreaks along the coast of northern Australia, according to the WHO. It has a mortality rate of 50-75%.
The research found that climate change could cause the geographic range of flying foxes to expand southwards and further inland. “Spillover events could potentially increase farther south, and inland with climate change,” the authors say.
Elsewhere, a recent preprint – a preliminary study that has not yet completed peer review – suggests that climate change could drive substantial global increases in the passing of novel diseases from mammals to humans by 2070.
Using modelling, the study maps where around 4,000 mammals species and the diseases they carry are likely to move to by 2070. It finds mammals are “predicted to aggregate at high elevations, in biodiversity hotspots, and in areas of high human population density in Asia and Africa, sharing novel viruses between 3,000 and 13,000 times”.
The authors add: “Most projected viral sharing is driven by diverse hyper-reservoirs (rodents and bats) and large-bodied predators (carnivores).”
It will be important for the IPCC to include the emerging evidence of how climate change could affect the passing of diseases from animals to humans in its next major assessment report, currently due for release in 2021-22, says Poertner:
“We expect to include aspects as they become apparent from the literature.”
The scale of the impact of climate change on wildlife is currently second only to the damage caused by human land-use change, including deforestation, other types of habitat loss and human-animal conflict.
In its first major assessment on biodiversity published in May 2019, IPBES reported that humans have “significantly altered” 75% of the land surface and 66% of the global ocean. During 2010-15, 32m hectares of natural or recovering forest were cleared by humans. This area is roughly equal to the size of Italy.
As a result of ongoing pressures on biodiversity, around one million species are currently threatened by extinction within decades, the report concluded.
The report noted that ongoing pressures on wildlife are likely to increase contact between animals and humans, altering the chances of disease spillover. In chapter three of the full report, the authors say:
“Complex links between increased human disturbance, land-use change, habitat loss/degradation and biodiversity loss have all been linked to increases in the prevalence and risk of zoonotic [animal-borne] disease for a variety of pathogens.”
However, research into how biodiversity disturbance could affect animal-borne disease risk at a global level has so far been limited, it notes:
“Causal mechanisms are only well known for a handful of infectious diseases and it is sometimes hard to pick apart the drivers of disease to isolate the direct effects of environmental change from other human actions.”
In 2018, a study warned of a possible link between deforestation in southeast Asia and a heightened risk of spillover of novel coronaviruses from bats to humans. The authors say:
“Owing to evolving land-use, bat populations are setting up in areas closer to human dwellings…This increases the risk of transmission of viruses through direct contact, domestic animal infection, or contamination by urine or faeces.”
“Humanity has become remarkably adept at understanding how to mitigate conventional risks that can be relatively easily isolated and managed with standard risk-management approaches. But we are much less competent when it comes to dealing with complex risks in the interconnected systems that underpin our world, such as organizations, economies, societies and the environment.
“There are signs of strain in many of these systems: our accelerating pace of change is testing the absorptive capacities of institutions, communities and individuals.
“When risk cascades through a complex system, the danger is not of incremental damage but of “runaway collapse” or an abrupt transition to a new, suboptimal status quo.”
See: “The Global Risks Report 2018, 13th Edition” | World Economic Forum (WEF); Strategic Partners: Marsh & McLennan Companies, Zurich Insurance Company; Academic Advisors: National University of Singapore, Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, Wharton Risk Management and Decision Processes Center, University of Pennsylvania
There is worry in the insurance industry that “rolling disasters” may become the new normal, the effects of climate change that many scientists believe have resulted in dryer conditions in the west coast and more intense hurricanes in the east coast. “Climate change is a great concern to the art insurance industry, particularly because of the hurricanes we are seeing,” Quinn said. Both AXA and Chubb are active in promoting research in climate change, recognizing that catastrophic natural events may prove to be an annual occurrence.
Insurers are concerned especially over works of art in private homes.
Insurers in areas such as California may seek to limit their risks. The extent of the damage in regions of California affected by the recent wildfires, for instance, may well increase the cost and limit the availability of fine art insurance.
The Pérez Art Museum Miami was designed and engineered to withstand the vicissitudes of extreme weather.
The ICA Miami’s new building, expected to open to the public in December, is also designed to weather extreme storms. The museum “’collection is currently being held in a state-of-the-art storage facility, which also adheres to hurricane codes’”.
The Bass Museum of Art, currently undergoing expansion and expected to open in October, has an action plan to protect the building, the collection, and employees.
A bank’s or insurance company’s exposure to the housing market, which might face risks from sea level rise, and to climate risk via their loan books, including via physical impacts to houses on their mortgage books, is considered by Geoff Summerhayes of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority as a key climate-change induced major or material financial risk to the bank or insurance company and a risk that is actionable by shareholders.
“The potential exposure of banks’ and insurers’ balance sheets to real estate impacted by climate change” may be risks that are “foreseeable, material and actionable now” (Summerhayes, February 17).
While much of the early focus on these risks has been on insurance firms and their exposure to losses from increasingly frequent and severe natural disasters, it is now understood that there are a variety of other potential issues. Other potential issues include the potential exposure of bank’s and insurers’ balance sheets to real estate impacted by climate change.
A case has been filed on 7 August 2017 against Australia’s largest bank, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia that is the first anywhere in the world to test in court how companies are required to disclose climate change-related risks in their annual reports. The case, filed by bank shareholders, claims that the bank’s 2016 directors’ report did not adequately inform investors of climate change risks and seeks an injunction to stop the bank making the same omissions in future annual reports.
A part of the claim focuses on the Commonwealth Bank not disclosing any climate-related risks as major or material risks. “When the bank talks about major or material risks to the bank, we say it should be talking about climate change,” said David Barnden, a lawyer at Environmental Justice Australia who signed the claim on behalf of the applicants.
The Commonwealth Bank of Australia might face diverse risks as a result of climate change. “CBA has exposure to the Australian economy in general. We could be talking about anything from extractive projects to the housing market, which might face risks from sea level rise,” said Barnden.
The case follows a key speech given in February by Geoff Summerhayes of the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority at the Insurance Council of Australia’s annual forum in Sydney. Mr. Summerhayes said that climate change poses both a physical risk and a transition risk for Australian companies.
“The terminology I would like to adopt now, consistent with the FSB Taskforce, is physical and transition risks. I won’t bore you with definitions, but for the sake of clarity:
“1. physical risks stem from the direct impact of climate change on our physical environment – through, for example, resource availability, supply chain disruptions or damage to assets from severe weather.
“2. transition risks stem from the much wider set of changes in policy, law, markets, technology and prices that are part of the now agreed transition to a low-carbon economy.”
Business, he said, needs to stop reporting on climate change as a purely ethical or environmental issue and begin seeing it as a financial problem. He said: “Like all risks, it is better they are explicitly considered and managed as appropriate, rather than simply ignored or neglected.”
“While climate risks have been broadly recognised, they have often been seen as a future problem or a non-financial problem,” he said on February 17.
“To begin with a generalisation, while climate risks have been broadly recognised, they have often been seen as a future problem or a non-financial problem.
“The key point I want to make today, and that APRA wants to be explicit about, is that this is no longer the case. Some climate risks are distinctly ‘financial’ in nature. Many of these risks are foreseeable, material and actionable now. Climate risks also have potential system-wide implications that APRA and other regulators here and abroad are paying much closer attention to.”
“I think the days of viewing climate change within a purely ethical, environmental or long-term frame have passed. More and more, the conversations we are having are about the practical realities and consequences of a changing climate. One reason for this is that we now have a much more sophisticated, granular, quantifiable understanding of the impacts, risks and probability distributions around climate change. This is true on the planetary scale.”
“Concise Statement” | Guy Abrahams (and another), Applicants, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Respondent, signed by David Barnden, Lawyer for the Applicants, 7 August 2017.
Gloria Tello is reconsidering. “’These are things you have to think about now, before you invest your life savings into a business.’”
A stylist who does hair and makeup for weddings, Ms. Tello had planned to capitalize on nearby bridal boutiques and open her own studio in the City of Coral Gables, Miami-Dade County, Florida. Having experienced water inundating the streets while a college student and learning of the risk of heavy neighborhood flooding over the next decades, she is reconsidering. While some businesses pile sandbags at their doors, she wonders “how small business owners can cope with it.”
Coastal California is already experiencing the effects of sea level rise.
Says San Mateo supervisor Dave Pine, “We are at the point of no return in fighting climate change and if we don’t reduce emissions there will be catastrophic impacts.”
California coastal communities both north and south are filing suit against 37 “carbon majors,” including Shell, Chevron, Statoil, Exxon, and Total. San Mateo and Marin Counties in northern California and San Diego County’s City of Imperial Beach claim that greenhouse gas emissions from the fossil fuel companies’ activities over the last 50 years have locked in substantial sea level rises, which will cause billions of dollars’ worth of damage to properties and businesses, as well as endangering lives.
San Mateo and Marin Counties and Imperial Beach claim that the defendant companies “have known for nearly 50 years years that greenhouse gas pollution from their fossil fuel products has a significant impact on the Earth’s climate and sea levels” and engaged in a “co-ordinated, multi-front effort to conceal and deny their knowledge of these threats”.
Looking beyond roof surface to make modern commercial and residential buildings energy neutral, Physee, a tech startup headquartered in the Netherlands, has developed and installed the world’s first commercial, fully transparent solar-power-generating windows.
Ferdinand Grapperhaus, co-founder and CEO of the startup and a graduate of Delft Technical University, says “Right now, we are looking for iconic projects all over the world to show that a large glass building can be made energy neutral in an aesthetic way.”
“Large commercial estates consume a lot of energy. If you want to make these buildings energy neutral, you never have enough roof surface. Therefore, activating the buildings’ facades will significantly contribute to making the buildings energy neutral.”
Physee’s PowerWindows have solar cells installed in the edges at a specific angle. The angle allows the incoming solar light to be efficiently transformed into electricity.
The company is already working on second-generation technology that will triple the efficiency of the PowerWindows. The new technology is based on the ability of thulium to transform a broad spectrum of light into near-infrared light. Grapperhaus and his classmate Willem Kesteloo discovered this ability of thulium to transform a broad spectrum of light into near-infrared light in 2014 while studying at TU Delft.
The surface of the second generation of PowerWindows will be coated with a special, thuliam-enhanced material. This material will transforms oncoming visible light into near-infrared light. The near-infrared light will then be transported towards the solar cells at the edges of the windows.
The headquarters of Rabobank, the Netherlands’ largest bank, commissioned the first installation of Physee’s PowerWindows. The installation was unveiled in June in Eindhoven, in the south of the Netherlands.
Observes Physee’s Ferdinand Grapperhaus, “Large commercial estates consume a lot of energy. If you want to make these buildings energy neutral, you never have enough roof surface. Therefore, activating the buildings’ facades will significantly contribute to making the buildings energy neutral.”
The WEF’s 2017 list of Technology Pioneers, announced on June 14, includes companies developing technologies including artificial intelligence, cyber security solutions and biotechnology. The pioneering companies are selected for their potential to change the world.
Physee’s presence on the list, observes Grapperhaus, shows that the world is starting to take climate change seriously:
“Ten years ago, sustainability was something that wasn’t taken very seriously — not by venture capitalists, not by many governments and neither by large corporations. What I have seen over the last three years is that corporations are becoming more and more responsible, governments are becoming more and more supportive, and venture capitalists are becoming more and more interested.”