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Sen. John McCain sought to distance himself from President Bush on Monday as he called for a mandatory limit on greenhouse gas emissions in the United States to combat climate change.

McCain, in a speech at a wind power company, also pledged to work with the European Union to diplomatically engage China and India, two of the world’s biggest polluters, if the nations refuse to participate in an international agreement to slow global warming.

In the prepared text of his speech, e-mailed to reporters on Sunday night and Monday morning, McCain went so far as to call for punitive tariffs against China and India if they evaded international standards on emissions, but he omitted the threat in his delivered remarks. Aides said he had decided to soften his language because he thought he could be misinterpreted as being opposed to free trade, a central tenet of his campaign and Republican orthodoxy.

But he took a direct short at Bush.

“I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears,” McCan said pointedly. “I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges.”

In speeches on the campaign trail, McCain frequently highlights the threat of climate change in speeches, but he has a mixed record on the environment in the Senate. In recent years, he has pushed legislation to curb emissions that contribute to climate change, but he has missed votes on increasing fuel economy standards and has opposed tax breaks meant to encourage alternative energy.

In his address on Monday, the presumptive Republican president nominee renewed his support for a “cap-and-trade” system in which power plants and other polluters could meet limits on greenhouse gases by either reducing emissions on their own or buying credits from more efficient producers.

McCain’s break with the Bush administration means that the three main presidential candidates have embraced swifter action to fight global warming.

The two Democrats seeking their party’s presidential nomination, Sens. Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, criticized the McCain plan as too timid. Leaders of a number of environmental groups were also sharply critical and noted his past Senate votes against incentives for energy conservation and alternative energy sources like wind and solar power.