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Barack Obama's presidency is ushering in a new era of North American co-operation against climate change after George W. Bush's inaction held back Canada's ability to tackle greenhouse-gas emissions, Stephen Harper says.

In Mr. Obama's first foreign trip as President, the two leaders are expected to task officials with exploring North American co-operation on energy and the environment - which Mr. Harper's government hopes will be the first step to a broader pact.

It is only one of several topics the two will discuss during their short but crucial meetings. The economy will dominate, including key sectors such as the auto industry, as well as protectionism and trade flows across the border. But they will also focus on Afghanistan and balancing climate-change action with energy needs.

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In a pre-summit interview with CNN, the Prime Minister insisted that Canada's climate-change policy has been hamstrung by the inaction of its largest trading partner.

"In Canada, we've been wrestling for the last decade or so with our desire to try to have a regime, a regulatory regime, that would diminish our own carbon emissions. But we've been trying to do so in an integrated economy when the United States has not been willing to do so," Mr. Harper said in an interview to be broadcast in two parts yesterday and today.

"I think quite frankly the fact that we have a President and an administration that wants to see some kind of regulation on this is an encouragement."

Mr. Harper's government was viewed in international talks as an ally of former president Bush's efforts to press developing countries such as China and India to commit to greenhouse-gas curbs before striking a new binding international agreement to cut emissions. In Canada, he rebuffed calls for absolute caps on industry emissions, which experts say will be necessary to align with Mr. Obama's promised cap-and-trade system for pollution credits.

The issue has become a hot-button backdrop for the visit, as environmentalists campaign against what they call Alberta's "dirty oil," fearing Mr. Harper is seeking to shelter the oil sands from emissions regulation.

Environment Minister Jim Prentice has called for a broad pact, including a cap-and-trade system for emissions, common fuel-efficiency standards, and a joint energy-development strategy. The Obama administration has endorsed limited co-operation on technology such as carbon-capture-and-storage systems.

Canadian officials, speaking on condition they not be named, said the leaders are expected to agree to explore ways for the two countries to co-operate on the environment and energy, but cautioned that there will be no detailed agreement so soon.

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One source said the Prime Minister and the President may end up agreeing to send the issues to a pair of working groups and have them report back after six or nine months.

Both leaders will have environment and energy advisers in their small meeting teams: Mr. Obama will be accompanied by his energy and climate-change adviser, Carol Browner; Mr. Harper will bring Mr. Prentice.

The impact of a visit from a President who has caught the world's imagination has taken Ottawa by storm.

The capital's airspace will be cleared for Mr. Obama's 10:30 a.m. arrival, and downtown streets will be closed. In all, Mr. Obama will meet Mr. Harper in three sessions: a 10-minute private chat; a half-hour meeting accompanied by an aide or two; and a 90-minute working lunch, each with a handful of senior figures.

The recession will dominate talks, including efforts to stabilize the global financial sector, and both governments' stimulus packages.

One key goal is for the leaders to direct officials to co-ordinate auto-industry bailouts, to ensure U.S. plans aren't biased against Canadian plants, and that money from both sides makes the industry viable, said Michael Kergin, former Canadian ambassador to Washington. "It's important that they look at these operations as an integrated whole," he said.

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Canada will also want Mr. Obama to signal that he does not want the U.S. to endanger trade with protectionism.

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