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Japan is in a unique position to help promote sustainable development in Asia and in developing countries in the area of solar power, an influential U.S. environmental pundit said in an interview.

“One of the things Japan can do, is in some ways ideally positioned to do, is to launch an energy Marshall Plan for the developing countries of Asia based around solar energy,” said Lester Brown, president and founder of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington.

“There are roughly 2 billion people in the world without access to electricity, and maybe 1 billion (of them are) in Asia,” he said. “So this would be a great time and a great way for Japan to bring its industrial capabilities and its technological leadership to bear.”

Brown, in Japan to promote the Japanese version of his book “Eco-Economy: Building an Economy for the Earth,” said that in some remote areas, such as the mountains of Peru or rural India, solar energy is more economical than building a power plant or even candles or kerosene.

Brown said this is a niche Japan should be striving to fill.

“If I were (a member of) the Japanese government I would be pushing hard with an aid program to help develop the industry while helping developing countries,” Brown said.

Likewise, Japan can export expertise in the areas of agriculture and family planning, Brown said.

Agriculture in Japan is akin and very applicable to that in many of the developing countries in Asia, such as the Philippines, Indonesia and India, Brown said.

“Japan has the advantage in that it is densely populated, features very small (land) holdings, and the emphasis has been on raising land productivity. This is clearly an area where Japan can lead,” he said.

In terms of family planning, Japan is one of the few countries in Asia that has achieved stable population growth and should be using this experience to help neighboring countries achieve similar objectives by seeing that women have access to family planning services, he said.

Developing countries aside, at home Japan should be looking to revamp its tax system to encourage more sustainable behavior, Brown said, touching on a similar program under way in Germany.

“If Japan could restructure its tax system — not change the level of taxes but reduce income taxes and raise taxes on ecologically destructive activities — it would be a major example for the world.”

In doing so, Japan could show the world how to “get markets to tell the truth,” Brown said, by having prices and consumer decisions reflect environmental impact.

Known for establishing the Worldwatch Institute, a private think tank in Washington that publishes annual reports on the global environment, Brown embarked on a new challenge last year when he founded the Earth Policy Institute, which is dedicated to sketching a blueprint of what a sustainable economy should look like.

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