VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The Canadian government is not very interested in implementing a national a carbon tax, despite a decision by its third largest province to adopt one, federal Environment Minister John Baird said on Wednesday.
British Columbia's plan, unveiled on Tuesday, is the first of its kind in North America and its supporters say is among the world's most comprehensive tax programs aimed at curbing emissions of greenhouse gases, blamed for climate change.
Baird said British Columbia had the right to pursue its own strategy, but the federal government has a different approach.
He added he will not criticize the Western Canadian province's plan to impose a tax based on carbon content that will cover nearly all fossil fuels used by industry and individuals.
"We have a different focus, our approach is on industrial regulation," Baird said told Reuters. "There are a lot of different approaches. The good news is that they are taking action on climate change."
The federal Conservative government, which has abandoned Canada's commitments under the Kyoto climate change protocol, announced last year that it planned to cut emissions by up to 65 percent from 2006 levels by 2050.
But a panel appointed by the government warned in January that Ottawa would not be able to meet its targets for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases without enacting a carbon tax quickly.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been cool to the idea of carbon taxes and hard caps on industrial carbon emissions on the grounds they would hurt the economy.
British Columbia said global warming was too important to wait around for the federal government and other provinces to reach consensus on what to do. The province of Quebec adopted a limited carbon tax last year.
The Liberal government of British Columbia also broke with Ottawa last year when it said it would work with U.S. states and the province of Manitoba to develop a carbon trading system as part of a pledge to cut emissions by 33 percent by 2020.
The province said the key to its new plan is that it will be "revenue neutral," with the carbon tax offset by other tax reductions, allowing companies and individuals to save money if they reduce emissions and cut energy use.
The tax plan will be phased in over five years, starting at C$10 per tonne and increasing by C$5 a tonne in each of the next four years.
Environmentalists have widely praised the plan, and said Ottawa should follow suit.
Pierre Alvarez, president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said his industry's greatest concern is that provincial plans should be harmonized with any federal efforts.
"The ship is sailing. How do we keep the fleet kind of in order," Alvarez said.
Reporting Allan Dowd, Editing by Rob Wilson