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After last weekend’s conference in Bali, climate change is high on the agenda once again. Barbara Panvel brings the issue back home with an assessment of the impact of a new Birmingham library on global warming.

In her article Architectural Global Warming, Susan Smith points out that a lion's share of the pollutants that cause global warming are attributable to architecture.

American architect Edward Mazria calculates this share at 46% of U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) output. Cement making alone is estimated to be responsible for 7-10% of global CO2 emissions.

The government’s Sustainable Development Commission, chaired by Jonathon Porritt, has worked with Department for Communities and Local Government over the last two years to persuade it to concentrate on refurbishment because there is so much “embedded energy” in existing buildings that, no matter how energy-efficient a new one might be, there will be a net carbon loss in knocking it down and replacing it.

New-build is carbon intensive and demolition also carries many wider environmental impacts, including air pollution and disposal of waste materials.

However developers are discouraged from renovating existing buildings to high standards because this carries a financial penalty: nonsensically, new-build is tax-free whereas VAT is charged on repair and refurbishment.

If the government decides to act on the Sustainable Development Commission’s proposal that VAT on new-build and refurbishment be equalised at 11-12%, making it revenue neutral, an even stronger case will be made for remodelling, extending and renovating the Central Library by reducing the cost which is already admitted in Capita Symond’s report to be “significantly lower”.

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