The GOP presidential contender also prodded China and India - two major emitters of the greenhouse gases blamed for the planet's warming - to join the effort, although he muted planned talk of tariffs against them in favor of "effective diplomacy" to encourage their compliance.
An aide later said the Arizona senator didn't want to be interpreted as being "at odds with his commitment to open trade."
McCain was less restrained in his approach to President Bush, who broke a 2000 campaign pledge to regulate carbon-dioxide emissions and who also backed off signing the Kyoto global warming protocols shortly after taking office.
"I will not shirk the mantle of leadership that the United States bears. I will not permit eight long years to pass without serious action on serious challenges. I will not accept the same dead-end of failed diplomacy that claimed Kyoto. The United States will lead and will lead with a different approach - an approach that speaks to the interests and obligation of every nation," McCain declared.
The language highlighted the political stakes for McCain, the Republican's presumed presidential nominee.
His visit to Oregon came days after the leading Democratic contenders, Sens.of Illinois and Clinton of New York, campaigned in the state.
Oregon is viewed by some as a general-election battleground, and its Columbia Gorge and Mount Hood National Wilderness are playgrounds for many outdoorsmen and environmentalists.
Among those attending McCain's speech was Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, a Democrat. McCain heaped praise on him - despite mangling the pronunciation of his name - and said, "As president of the United States, I will sit down with Governor Ted Kulongoski and all other governors of this country, whether they be Democrat or Republican, and work for the betterment of this nation."
Global warming also stands with abortion rights and an array of social causes as important issues to the evangelicals and Christian conservatives whom McCain hopes will bolster his political base this fall.
Democrats derided McCain's record on the issue, noting contributions to his campaign from energy lobbyists, his recent proposal to temporarily suspend the federal gasoline tax as a means of making driving cheaper and some votes against alternate energy sources.
"It is truly breathtaking for John McCain to talk about combating climate change while voting against virtually every recent effort to actually invest in clean energy," Obama said in a statement.
Clinton said, "While Senator McCain's proposals may be improvement on President Bush's, that's not saying much."
McCain has long expressed a belief in global warming, arguing that even if he is wrong, acting as if the planet's temperature were increasing would only benefit the environment if scientists subsequently proved he was mistaken.
The main solution he outlined Monday is to implement a cap-and-trade program on carbon-fuel emissions, like a similar program in the Clean Air Act that was used to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions that triggered acid rain.
Industries would be given emission targets, and those coming in under their limit could sell their surplus polluting capacity to companies unable to meet their target.
McCain wants the country to return to 2005 emission levels by 2012; 1990 levels by 2020; and to a level 60 percent below that by 2050.
Internationally, McCain promised to challenge China and India, economic rivals who are fueling their challenge to U.S. market supremacy with heavily polluting fuels such as coal, gas and oil.
While the prepared text of his remarks had him promising to work with the European Union and other like-minded governments "to develop a cost equalization mechanism to apply to those countries that decline to enact a similar cap," he changed up his remarks to the audience.
"I would work with the European Union and other like-minded governments that plan to address the global warming problem to develop effective diplomacy, effective transfer of technology or other means to engage those countries that decline to enact a similar cap," he said.