In her monthly Expert Take column, Selva Ozelli, an international tax attorney and CPA, covers the intersection between emerging technologies and sustainability, and provides the latest developments around taxes, AML/CFT regulations and legal issues affecting crypto and blockchain.
The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) is holding its 76th annual meeting between Sept. 14 and 30 to bring countries together at a critical time for marshaling collective action to tackle the global environmental crisis, which has worsened the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Ahead of the UNGA meeting, the latest report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change points out that ambitious climate action has now become a matter of urgency — especially since the publication of “Nationally determined contributions under the Paris Agreement. Synthesis report by the secretariat,” which shows that the world is not on track to reach the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to address climate change in accordance with the Paris Agreement.
Furthermore, 200 of the world’s leading health journals released a joint statement, pleading with global leaders to cut greenhouse gas emissions to mitigate climate change, which they say is the greatest threat to public health (Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 13).
A plan for sustainable green recovery from the pandemic necessitates understanding the links between climate change, health and inequality; and implementing ambitious climate change policies that align with the Paris Agreement. The United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are a call for action by all countries and people to promote prosperity while protecting the planet. More important than ever, these goals provide a critical framework for a green recovery from COVID-19.
Blockchain technology and nonfungible tokens, or NFTs, have been instrumental in funding these goals during 2021 — declared by the UN General Assembly as the “International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development” — which has witnessed the rapid spread of highly transmissible variants of COVID-19 amid the worst wildfire season on record.
COVID-19: Art charity and blockchain
The COVID-19 pandemic has created both a public health crisis and an economic crisis. The pandemic has disrupted lives, pushed the hospital system to its brink and created a global economic slowdown resulting in losses totaling over $1.7 billion for the United States arts and cultural sector alone.
According to X4Impact — a data insights, research and consulting services company for social innovation in the United States — over 457,000 nonprofit organizations in the U.S., which have combined funding of around $2.9 trillion, continue to experience an increase in demand for their services against a significant decrease in income. The extent to which the coronavirus has affected the U.S. charitable sector remains unknown.
Pinpointing the urgent need for funds for charities and artists as well as COVID-19 victims (SDG 3), Bundeep Rangar — CEO of PremFina, the United Kingdom’s first venture capital-backed alternative insurance premium finance company — explained to me: “Last June, Art & Co held a first of its kind blockchain technology-assisted charity art auction. The auction bidding sales process, tracking sale proceeds and distribution of proceeds to charities was tracked by LuxTag Blockchain/NEM.”
Since June 2020, when I held my first digital art show inspired by climate change and COVID-19 (SDGs 3 and 13), NFTs and blockchain technology have steadily seeped into the art and charity world, enabling artists and museums to monetize their work and continue to receive payments for their work even after it is sold.
COVID-19: Museums and blockchain
Among the sectors most impacted by the pandemic are museums, which play an important role in raising awareness about climate change (SDG 13) and providing reliable information (SDG 4). With essentially all U.S. museums shutting down, these institutions saw great financial losses while having to incur digitization costs to survive and continue to reach the general public during lockdowns.
Diane Drubay — the founder of We Are Museums and a minter of NFTs on the platform Hic Et Nunc, who exhibited at DoinGud’s first “Origins Exhibition” — told me: “I see clean blockchains, such as Tezos, as a fabulous opportunity for museums. Low carbon footprint currencies and marketplaces provide an easy, fair and ethical access to blockchain and NFTs, shifting the industry from this high energy-consuming, exclusive and money-making space depicted by the media.” She continued:
“We are still in the education phase when museums need to become blockchain literate to fully understand its potential.”
She explained further: “But once they do, they’ll find fabulous ways to reach out to new young and creative audiences ready to engage into purposeful projects, share their collections through innovative, interactive and immersive processes, as well as new models to self-sustain themselves.”
Indeed, NFTs have been a game changer for digital artists and museums by providing them with new income opportunities that sustained them through COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns.
In August, OpenSea — the largest nonfungible token marketplace — saw NFT sales volume balloon to $4 billion, followed by a bearish correction during September. But there is a race among artists and museums to tap into the NFT market to monetize their work.
Earlier this month, Russia’s Hermitage Museum, the largest art collection in the world, sold NFTs of several masterpieces in partnership with Binance’s NFT marketplace in order to cover the budget shortfalls brought about by the continuing COVID-19 crisis, with the auction including the sale of a work by Leonardo da Vinci for $440,000. New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest art museum in the U.S., is expected to do the same by selling 219 prints and photographs to help make up for $150 million in lost revenue, according to Artnet News.
Drubay indicated that along with other NFT artists, she will be launching a new sustainable blockchain-based platform called alterHEN on Sept. 30, which she said is a lively lab on emerging models for the art market that has a new way of creating, collecting, selling and exhibiting art.
Charitable, sustainable NFTs for the UN’s 17 SDGs
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sold his first-ever tweet as an NFT for $2.9 million and donated the proceeds in Bitcoin (BTC) to GiveDirectly, a charitable organization that sends funds to families in Africa impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic (SDG 3). Bids were handled on a sustainable platform called Valuables that lets people make offers on tweets that are “autographed by their original creators.”
Other sustainable nonfungible token platforms where artists can mint NFTs and showcase and sell their creations to inspire greater awareness in the context of the UN’s 17 SDG goals include DigitalArt4Climate, the Enjin NFT platform and DoinGud, where I am launching my first NFT, “Recovery Roses,” at the first-ever Origins Exhibition — with sale proceeds of my NFT donated to fund SDG-focused charitable organizations around the world.
DoinGud co-founder Manu Alzuru told me: “DoinGud’s blockchain-based social media and marketplace is designed to facilitate charitable giving via NFT sales to vetted social impact organizations of the creator’s choice. It will lead to ever-increasing opportunities to support worthy charitable causes that share the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals like ending world hunger, solving climate change and more.”
William Quigley — a cryptocurrency investor, co-founder of NFT blockchain platform Worldwide asset eXchange (WAX) and co-founder of the first fiat-backed stablecoin Tether (USDT) — told me about WAX’s new charitable initiative that addresses SDGs 13 and 14. The company — which provides an eco-friendly blockchain for NFTs, video games and collectibles — has released a new collection of “Carbon Offset vIRL” NFTs. As Quigley said: “For every $1 ‘composted’ in WAX’s sustainability-driven collection, the National Forest Foundation will plant one tree sapling, each of which offsets an average of one tonne of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. WAX is officially setting higher standards for responsibility across the blockchain. We’ve been working tirelessly to ensure our blockchain is both energy efficient and inspires our community to act with the environment in mind. With Carbon Offset vIRL® NFTs, we are confident we can all make a massive, positive difference together.”
Cryptograph, on the other hand, is the first luxury and celebrity NFT auction platform to use blockchain technology to introduce a new way to do philanthropy in the digital age and make charitable fundraising easier, instantly global and perpetual in nature. Tommy Alastra, a blockchain pioneer and Cryptograph’s co-founder, explained to me: “Cryptograph is a major breakthrough for charitable organizations wanting to ride the wave to improved donations that are borderless and accessible from across the world. With the new post-COVID world and less in-person large scale charity galas, Cryptograph will permit charitable foundations to continue to fundraise successfully and receive percentages of each NFT auction item even in the resale market on an ongoing basis.”
Cryptograph sells NFTs made by Vitalik Buterin, Emin Gün Sirer, Erik Voorhees, Evan Van Ness — the writer of “Week In Ethereum News” and former director at ConsenSys — and others, with the proceeds funding organizations working toward SDGs 1, 2, 4 and 14. Creators can also choose their own SDG-focused charitable organization to fund. For example, the Autism Science Foundation, which is dedicated to supporting and funding innovative autism research (SDG 3), announced that it is accepting cryptocurrency and NFT donations via Every.org.
U.S. tax treatment of NFT donations
Since an NFT is considered property for U.S. tax purposes, it will be valued at its fair market value at the time of donation. Donors of NFTs worth over $500 — which are non-cash donations — will be required to comply with Internal Revenue Service appraisal requirements by filing out Form 8283. The donation will be tax-deductible for the individual donor as follows:
- If the donor held the NFT as a capital asset for more than a year, the donor will be able to deduct the fair market value of the gift, up to 30% of their adjusted gross income.
- If the donor held the NFT as a capital asset for a short term (less than one year) or as ordinary income property, the donor will be able to deduct the lesser of the cost basis or fair market value, up to 50% of their adjusted gross income.
- If the donor received the NFT as payment for services rendered, the donor may claim a deduction on the fair market value on the date of receipt.
Charitable contributions that are not deductible in the current year, because they exceed the taxpayer’s adjusted gross income limitation, can be carried forward for five years.
Donors of NFTs are urged to do due diligence concerning the platform on which they launch their NFTs to find out whether they are entitled to a U.S. tax deduction or not.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Selva Ozelli, Esq., CPA, is an international tax attorney and certified public accountant who frequently writes about tax, legal and accounting issues for Tax Notes, Bloomberg BNA, other publications and the OECD.