Did anybody try, or even think, to ask Obama or McCain for a response? Do they think the summit set a frame for negotiations that they’ll be “happy” to work within? That’s a great question, especially considering how the frame changed last week. In return for Bush’s novel agreement to halve global emissions of heat-trapping gases by mid-century, the rest of the G-8 agreed to a statement saying that developing nations like China and India must be part of a new international accord. The New York Times Sheryl Gay Stolberg aptly described the deal as a bit of “environmental quid pro quo.” And an otherwise typically recalcitrant Wall Street Journal editorial wisely noted that the press focused on Bush’s concession, when the G-8’s was equally important.

So where does that leave Obama and McCain?

China and India, of course, rebuffed the group’s call to reduce emissions by 2050, but the meeting was “unprecedented” insofar as it brought the eight industrialized countries together with eight “major emitters” from the developing world. Ironically enough, this inclusive approach is an area where Bush and Obama share some common ground. According to an incisive op-ed published in both Japan’s Daily Yomiuri and India’s Hindu newspapers:

One of the few points of agreement between Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama (even if their recipes for addressing the problem diverge sharply) is on the cast of countries that should be around the table negotiating solutions for climate change. If Mr. Bush has his MEM-16 [Major Economies/Emitters Meeting], Mr. Obama has his proposal for a Global Energy Forum based on the combination of the G-8 and O5 [Outreach 5].

If you’re wondering what Obama’s Global Energy Forum is, it’s not your fault - the American press hasn’t covered it at all. That’s a shame. His platform statement on energy states:

Obama will build on our domestic commitments by creating a negotiating process that involves a smaller number of countries than the nearly 200 countries in the current Kyoto system. Obama will create a Global Energy Forum - based on the G8+5, which included all G-8 members plus Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa - of the world’s largest emitters to focus exclusively on global energy and environmental issues…

This Global Energy Forum will complement - and ultimately merge with - the much larger negotiation process underway at the UN to develop a post-Kyoto framework.

The statement also says that the forum will allow the U.S. to “exert maximum pressure on China and India to do their part and make real commitments of their own.” This is monumentally important. Yet last week, instead of getting Obama to elaborate on the forum in the context of the G-8 meeting, the press focused on his advertisement. It’s disgraceful.

John McCain is an equally ripe target for questioning on this subject. His Web site and energy plan don’t have anything as detailed as Obama’s forum, but his point of view needs no less explication. When McCain made his let’s-take-the-lead-on-climate-change speech in Portland, Oregon in May, he criticized the Bush administration’s intransigence, but “prodded” China and India to do their part in reducing carbon output. He added, however, that if efforts to secure an international agreement that includes those two countries don’t succeed, the U.S. still has “an obligation to act.” As National Public Radio reported at the time:

A prepared text of McCain’s speech supplied to reporters suggested that western countries might use trade sanctions to push China and India into cutting their carbon output. But in delivering the speech, McCain substituted softer language, saying diplomacy and technical support should be enough to move the two countries.

Clearly, both Obama and McCain have a lot to explain about their views of the U.S.’s role in leading, or at least participating in, global climate negotiations. The press should force them to do that and move beyond sound bites taken from campaign advertisements and stump speeches. Unfortunately, journalists missed a golden opportunity to do that during the G-8 meeting last week. But such questions still need answers, and there will be other chances to dig into candidates’ opinions about environmental policy.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.