Japan mulls expanding green business market, jobs

TOKYO, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Japan aims to expand the "green business" market and create up to 1 million new jobs, the environment ministry said on Wednesday, to simultaneously fight climate change and boost the economy amid a global downturn. Some world leaders have been calling for job creation through tax breaks and extra public spending to promote energy efficiency, mitigate carbon emissions and develop renewable power sources.

"The worldwide trend is to kill two birds with one stone by investing in action against global warming and linking that to taking care of both the environment and the economy," said Ichiro Sumikura, an environment ministry official.

"We want to take the initiative and build a leading low-carbon society while stepping out of recession before anyone else in the world."

Japan's greenhouse gas emissions rose to a record high in the year to March 2008, putting it at risk of missing its Kyoto Protocol target of cutting emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases to 6 percent below 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012. [ID:nT173861]

The country had planned to expand its market for environmentally friendly businesses by 2020, hiring 2.2 million workers and boosting its value to 100 trillion yen ($1 trillion), Sumikura said.

But Environment Minister Tetsuo Saito told Prime Minister Taro Aso earlier this week that the ministry may bring forward the target year, he said, although he did not say by how much.

Domestic media said the target year may be moved to 2015.

At present this market, which includes renewable energy firms and makers of energy-efficient household electronics, employs some 1.4 million people and is worth about 70 trillion yen ($745.8 billion), a report from the environment ministry showed.

To boost the market, the ministry is considering taking measures such as setting up zero-interest rate loans for environmentally friendly companies, the report added.

Aso approved of the plan earlier this week and details including the budget are set to be announced in March, Sumikura said.

Last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a "Green New Deal" package to tackle the economic and climate crises, inspired by U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal public works programme during the 1930s Great Depression. [ID:nLB98535]

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has touted a $150 billion clean energy programme during his campaign, designed to reduce U.S. dependence on imported oil and create 5 million jobs. But he also said in a campaign debate that the credit crunch could slow this down. [ID:nLE28538] (Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Hugh Lawson)