10:40am GMT, 28 Nov update from Bill Gunyon
At the first NGO press conference of the Durban talks, Friends of the Earth International has entered the ring with fists flying. Metaphorically of course, as Meena Raman in particular has more potent weaponry in her use of language.

Attendance for barely an hour of the opening plenary session in the main hall has been enough for Ms Raman to feel alarmed. She accused the new president of the conference, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, of framing the discourse without reference to the texts which should be governing her role - the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol.

Instead her speech prejudges a search for unsatisfactory compromise in which:

you have historical responsibilities wiped out.... and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities removed

The NGO battle lines are drawn.
11:32am GMT, 28 Nov update from Bill Gunyon
There are rumours this morning that Canada may withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Not just from a second commitment period from 2012 (which we already know) but lock stock and barrel now, cheerio and goodbye.

The story was discussed by Alden Meyer, director of strategy and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, at this morning's press conference given by the Climate Action Network. Meyer outlined the global warming chargesheet against Canada that will lengthen further if the rumour proves founded:

first it has not respected its formal obligations under the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol; second it has offered very weak pledges of emissions reductions to 2020, and third it dumps its participation in the Kyoto Protocol early

"This is not what we need in these talks - a race to the bottom," said Meyer, "we need ambition to get to the top."

He called for Canada to make its intentions plain. Either commit to the negotiations on the fight against climate change or stand aside. "Other countries can and should go ahead regardless," he said.

I understand that the Canadian parliament will be in session later today and it's likely that the government will be challenged to make its position clear.
12:15pm GMT, 28 Nov update from Bill Gunyon
The Climate Action Network has just completed its first press conference of the Durban talks. CAN is a worldwide network of over 700 Non-Governmental Organizations in more than 90 countries - its experts hold regular media sessions at UN climate negotiations.

CAN's checklist for a successful Durban outcome:

* agreement to a second commitment period of emission reduction targets under the Kyoto Protocol from 2012 for those countries currently participating
* agreement by all other countries to a mandate to complete negotiations for a long term binding treaty on emissions by 2015 at the latest
* the establishment of the Green Climate Fund together with clarity on where and when its funding will come from

Alden Meyer, director of policy and strategy at the Union of Concerned Scientists sketched out the political forces which will determine whether these goals will be achieved.

He depicts a tussle between a "coalition of the willing" (who favour an outcome broadly consistent with CAN's position) and a "coalition of the unwilling" (who want the binding regime of the Kyoto Protocol to wither way, to be replaced with a national "pledge and review' system).

There's no point in me trying to explain this further as Alden Meyer expresses his thoughts with wonderful clarity in this interview with Adam Groves of OneClimate earlier today.

Alden Meyer: Expectations from the COP17 United Nations Climate Talks in Durban  

Video by OneWorldTV

12:39pm GMT, 28 Nov update from Bill Gunyon
Last night's local flooding in Durban, with tragic loss of lives, is rapidly making its presence felt in the global political debate in the International Conference Centre. Here's Artur Runge Metzger, head of the delegation of the European Commission in the press conference just ending now:

how high does the water need to get in these conference places before the negotiators reach agreement

Both Mr Runge Metzger and his colleague Tomasz Chruszow from Poland look tired and sound croaky and they haven't even started the negotiations yet. But Artur spelled out Europe's position:

Kyoto alone cannot save the planet. Today it covers only 25% of emissions, in the next period it may be only 15%. Countries are running away from the Kyoto Protocol and that's not going to solve the climate crisis. That is why we need both developed and developing countries to tell us where is this proces going to. Otherwise the public will lose confidence in this travelling circus that connot reach compromise.

I may not be word perfect but this is very close.
1:05pm GMT, 28 Nov update from Jeffrey Allen
So it's been confirmed that 8 people were killed here last night when flooding collapsed their homes in the townships (informal settlements) around Durban. Wealthy neighborhoods experienced flooding too, though no deaths. And surely they're insured.

We've been in Durban about 2 days now, and the rain has been torrential at times. We've been told by several people that it's rained every day for the past month, and that that is not at all normal for these parts.

All this comes on the heels of a report from the global panel of scientists studying climate change (IPCC) showing that extreme weather events are on the increase, due to rising global temperatures. It specifically cited an increase in the number of "heavy precipitation events, "among other types of weather disasters.

At a press conference this morning, Oxfam's Tim Gore pointed out that most of the world's poorer people are heavily dependent on farming for their food and their livings, and these weather events are already causing massive spikes in food prices in countries as diverse as Kenya, Somalia, Thailand, Cambodia, and Afghanistan. While wealthier people can insulate themselves from these price shocks, he noted, the poor cannot.

When you already spend 75% of your income on food, what do you do when prices jump 400%?

Last night's floods and deaths in Durban are just the latest -- and maybe most direct -- example of how climate change is destroying lives in the world's poorer neighborhoods. I think not only about the 8 people who died, but also about their families and so many others who have lost everything today.
1:24pm GMT, 28 Nov update from Bill Gunyon
Jonathan Pershing, head of the US delegation, is back in full swing at the first US press conference from the Durban talks.

He keeps using the phrase "post 2020 agreement" which has annoyed me sufficiently to switch off. I'll revisit the tape of the full session later on.

This is exactly what Meena Raman was talking about at the Friends of the Earth press conference. It's a standard negotiating ploy to frame everything you say as though what you want has been agreed, airbrushing even the slightest acknowledgement that a credible alternative exists.

Pershing is presenting the emission reduction pledges made after the 2009 Copenhagen talks as though the UN process never had any intention of hard-coding them into a legally-binding treaty, as though the Kyoto Protocol and the Framework Convention on Climate Change don't exist.

He compounded the felony by expressing the view that none of the major economies will improve on their pledges in the meantime. So much for the recent barrage of scientific reports warning of the inadequacy of these pledges.

The US delegation is hitting the ground running, full tilt to put their heads in the Durban sands.
3:20pm GMT, 28 Nov update from Bill Gunyon
More details are emerging of just how close the UN climate talks came to disruption by an extreme weather event of the type that may become more prevalent if the negotiations continue to falter.

The senior UN climate official, Christiana Figueres, began today's press conference with an expression of condolence for the lives lost in last night's deluge in Durban. She went on:

I would like to reassure participants that this building (the International Conference Centre) is safe. It was inspected after the storm. There has been some damage to the roof and some flooding in the basement but as you saw everything was back in place for the opening ceremony and and the rest of the reparation is under way. 

Ms Figueres continued with a stern message for the negotiators:

What we witnessed last night was unseasonable weather for Durban and it is the type of unseasonable weather we are seeing all over the world as greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere continue to rise. To make the world climate safe and avoid climate change from spinning out of control, this meeting needs to take the next decisive steps in a global response to climate change.

Everyone in the Conference Centre today must have been disturbed in the night. Those who live in temperate zones may never have experienced such ferocity in nature. Perhaps too they have never seen the poorer township districts of cities, such as Durban, which are defenceless against such extremes.

Let's hope they tell their ministers arriving next week what it was like.
4:02pm GMT, 28 Nov update from Bill Gunyon
South Africa's minister for international relations, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, has just completed her first press conference as newly elected president of the UN climate change conference taking place in Durban.

Her prepared script may reassure those concerned that the negotiations may lose sight of the principles of the UN Convention that are supposed to frame all discussions. For example, there was repeated reference to the importance of a multilateral rules-based response to climate change.

But the question session was far more revealing. When asked about Africa, instead of flooding us with jargon about adaptation and climate resilience, Ms Mashabane went straight to the heart of the matter:

the biggest challenge for Africa is that efforts for the total eradication of poverty get rolled back by climate change

As much of my work focuses on exactly this problem, I'm on side with the new president.

Then there was a great moment when she misheard a Bloomberg question about the EU and launched into observations about the AU (African Union).

If you put Africa at the centre of things, you get different answers.
6:33pm GMT, 28 Nov update from Adam Groves
Each day at the UN Climate Talks, civil society groups hand out the ‘Fossil of The Day’ awards to those countries who are performing worst at the negotiations. Take a look at the video to see who should be hanging their head in shame this evening...

Fossil of the Day - Day 1 - COP17 Durban South Africa  

Video by OneWorldTV

10:26pm GMT, 28 Nov update from Bill Gunyon
A number of key Durban players, including the UN's Christiana Figueres, have predicted confidently that the conference will approve the Technology Mechanism. This refers to provisions in the Cancun Agreements for making clean energy technologies available to developing countries.

Few of these observers have mentioned the hurdle that must first be overcome through negotiations. Here's a reminder from Dr Matthew Rimmer, an Australian expert and author in intellectual property rights. Watch out for India in particular to play hardball.
DrRimmer: Its a big week in international intellectual property - as the topic of patents and clean technologies is debated in Durban at #COP17.
1:56am GMT update from Bill Gunyon
At this early stage of the climate talks, it's hard to judge the force of grassroots activism that exists beyond the confines of the formal conference centre.

Before the event, Nnimmo Bassey, chair of Friends of the Earth International, observed that Durban has strong activist traditions dating back to the apartheid era. 

SABC News offers a full story on the climate refugee camp which is being set up for South African activists travelling from outside Durban for Saturday's Day of Action. According to the report:

although the camp will not be made of actual refugees, the idea is to indicate that the climate predicament is already affecting people on the ground, with inconsistent weather patterns already wreaking havoc

Elsewhere the Occupy COP17 movement held its first assembly today, reported almost verbatim on the Durban Climate Justice site.

Excellent photos here provide evidence of support from 350.org (the high profile campaign group led by Bill McKibben), Patrick Bond (professor of development studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal) and Pablo Solon (former lead negotiator for Bolivia).

So many people with Pablo's experience would have spun the revolving door and joined a business consultancy to advise on the price of carbon over glasses of South Africa's excellent champagne. Instead he's hanging out with young activists, giving interviews to OneClimate:

I think the hope is coming from the people. The only way we can change the course of the negotiations is if there is social pressure.... I think the hope is in the movement of Occupy Wall Street

That sort of quote is not exactly going to set Pablo's phone humming with calls from New York the headhunters.
2:23am GMT update from Bill Gunyon
Monday is the day after the weekend, when everyone writes their opinion pieces. The result is a wall of content which tells little of what actually happened on Monday.

Easily the best of these reflections is Richard Calland's column in the Mail&Guardian which precisely depicts the tortuous balancing act that South Africa must play in these negotiations. As he puts it:

COP17 represents the biggest test for South Africa's diplomatic and process skills since 1994: it is the diplomatic equal of the World Cup

Elsewhere, the Guardian offers the 999th preview of the talks, but it's a good one by Praful Bidwai, dissecting the political dynamics between various groups of countries.

In the search for hard news, Reuters pinned down some quotes from the Canadian environment minister, Peter Kent. But he refused to confirm or deny the story that Canada is about to give notice to quit the Kyoto Protocol.

Today could be busy for the subject of deforestation. The Brazilian upper house is due to vote on the controversial forest code legislation sometime in the next 48 hours. And in one of Durban's press conferences, the Global Forest Coalition will be comparing UN REDD proposals on reducing emissions from deforestation with Grimm's Fairy Tales.