February 8, 2009 / 5:13 PM / 11 years ago

Art under threat from climate change: U.N. experts

OSLO (Reuters) - Art treasures in tropical nations are under threat from climate change which is likely to speed decay, U.N. experts said Sunday.

“The art world is made of materials that bugs like,” said Jose-Luis Ramirez, head of the U.N. University’s program for biotechnology for Latin America and the Caribbean.

“Climate change is a threat because it is going to increase the amount of fungus and bugs in many regions,” he told Reuters of a meeting of experts in Caracas from February 9-12 on new ways to protect art collections.

Much of the world’s cultural heritage is made of canvas, wood, paper or leather which “in prolonged warmth and dampness, attract mold, micro-organisms and insects, causing decay and disintegration,” a U.N. University statement said.

Many museums, especially in tropical nations, lack even air conditioning to protect collections of paintings, sculptures and other art from likely shifts in humidity and temperature, Ramirez said.

The U.N. Climate Panel says man-made climate change, stoked by burning of fossil fuels, will cause more heatwaves, shifts in monsoon rains, droughts and floods.

A lack of cash for government spending on culture amid the global financial crisis was also a worry, according to Alvaro Gonzalez, head of Venezuela’s Cultural Heritage Conservation Trust, which will host the meeting.

“With the world financial crisis and the advent of climate change effects, there is a state of emergency at the museums of several tropical countries,” he said in a statement.

Konrad Osterwalder, U.N. Under Secretary-General and rector of the U.N. University, urged more action.

“Despite the current economic downturn, we all have a great responsibility to ensure historic objects are managed and used in a sound and sustainable way and to safeguard them from the potential effects of a warming planet,” he said.

The experts would discuss new ways to protect art works, including harnessing micro-organisms, for instance to remove fungus. “Biological methods are less aggressive than physical or chemical means,” Ramirez said.

In Italy, curators have used micro-organisms instead of chemicals to clean masonry in Milan and to remove unwanted glues from frescoes in Pisa, the statement said.

Cuba’s national archives have tested natural plant-derived products to clean documents, in a shift from chemicals.

Editing by Matthew Jones

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