The United Nations climate change talks begin their 17th iteration in the rain-soaked South African city of Durban this morning in much the same way that they have since 1995 -- with a host of fine rhetoric about why the world needs to act on global warming, but virtually no agreement on how or when.

Usually, these conferences manage to overcome their organisational chaos, and the days spent negotiating over what is to be negotiated, to patch together just enough of an agreement to continue the process for another few years.