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Biden plays up positives but frustrations apparent after Cop26 talks

Photograph: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters Joe Biden returned to the US in the pre-dawn gloom on Wednesday to a climate agenda still held in frustrating limbo by Congress, following his high-profile cameo at crunch UN climate talks in Scotland that was heavy on dire warnings but light on deep cuts to planet-heating emissions.

The US president had aimed to arrive in Glasgow for the Cop26 summit with historic climate legislation in hand, which he could use to brandish at world leaders who still harbor resentments over four turbulent years of Donald Trump, where the climate crisis was variously ignored and mocked.

Instead, the intransigence of Senator Joe Manchin, a centrist Democrat and leading beneficiary of fossil fuel industry largesse , has left the landmark climate bill pared back and not voted upon, its fate left uncertain throughout Biden’s trip.

In Glasgow, Biden vowed America will “lead by the power of our example”, but was the target of activist protests over oil and gas leases issued back home, while leaders of several major emitters either did not show up or failed to submit vastly improved emissions reduction plans.

Biden ended his time in Scotland by ladling blame upon China for not taking the climate emergency seriously.

“The most important thing the president needed to do was reassure the rest of the world that the US is back in addressing this global crisis,” said Christy Goldfuss, an environment adviser to Barack Obama and now a policy expert at the Center for American Progress.

“But we have to have some humility, we have ground to make up. We can’t reclaim the mantle of leadership until the US can deliver on its commitments. Every Democrat, apart from one senator, supports climate action. That is untenable and everyone understands that.”

Biden has sought to play up the positives of his time at Cop26, where he has left negotiators to thrash out a deal aimed at averting disastrous global heating of beyond 1.5C. “I can’t think of any two days where more has been accomplished on climate,” he said.

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