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Rio +20 Summit kicks off amid global pessimism (+video)

Expectations are low at the UN conference that seeks to preserve Earth's ecosystems amid a growing population.

European investment in the renewable energy sector has developed in recent years, thanks to lower costs and higher efficiency gains, making electricity generation increasingly competitive against traditional fossil fuel technologies, despite the financial crisis forcing governments to cut subsidies.
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The United Nation’s biggest conference in history began in earnest in Brazil on Monday, with representatives from around the world looking to craft a plan to help lift billions of people out of poverty without exhausting the planet.

More than 115 presidents, prime ministers and other officials this week are planning to attend the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development, which has drawn at least 50,000 people from 190 countries. Yet expectations remain low because of the world’s many economic woes.

“The European Debt crisis, U.S. joblessness and even the Chinese economic slowdown has sapped some people’s enthusiasm,” said Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation.

President Barack Obama has no plans to attend the conference. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will lead the U.S. delegation, along with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Todd Stern, a special envoy for climate change.

Negotiators worked into the night Monday trying to finalize a master plan for social progress and managing natural resources. They hope to finish before Wednesday, when many international leaders plan to arrive to review proposals to slow down environmental degradation while providing enough food, clean water and clean energy for a worldwide population of 7 billion that’s expected to reach 9.3 billion by midcentury.

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