By Bruno Vander Velde, Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR)

How do we balance the economy and the environment? This framework is not new, and yet decades after it first seeped into academic exchanges, researchers and policymakers alike are still wrestling with it.

In fact, discussions about the links between economy and environment that came about during the 1970s provide a historical context for current policy debates, according to scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research.

With the UN Climate Summit, CIFOR’s and the CGIAR Development Dialogues all taking place this week in New York, CIFOR scientists Jacob Phelps and Kiran Asher discussed the roles that the “green economy” and climate change play in current debates—and where the idea of sustainable development even comes from.

“What is ‘green’ about the green economy?” Asher asks. “Is it talking about trees? Is it talking about environment? Is it talking about the economy? Is one at the cost of the other, or is it that you need on for the other?”

It’s clear these are hardly new ideas, but there are still no definitive answers, Phelps suggests. “To a certain extent there’s a need for semantic clarity and conceptual clarity,” he says.

Watch the discussion with Jacob Phelps and Kiran Asher above.

Editor’s Note: For more information about CIFOR’s activities at Climate Week NYC, go to

WATCH LIVE: You can see the Colloquium on Forests and Climate live online, Wednesday, 24 September, at 1:30 pm (local time). Go to for more details.

On ‘economy vs. environment’: How history can guide discussions today

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