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Is climate change to blame for crisis in Syria? Prince Charles says so. (+video)

While there is a growing academic belief that climate change will increase conflict this century, scientists are hesitant to label climate change a direct cause of any one conflict.

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    Britain's Prince Charles tours the Halifax Public Gardens in Halifax, Nova Scotia, May 19, 2014. The Prince has pointed to the world's failure to tackle climate change as a root cause of the civil war in Syria, terrorism and the consequent refugee crisis engulfing Europe.
    Mark Blinch/Reuters/File
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Britain's Prince Charles has described climate change as a "root cause" of the ongoing conflict in Syria and the subsequent refugee crisis that has driven millions of people from the region toward Europe.

In an interview with Sky News, the prince – who will give a keynote speech at the opening of a global climate conference in Paris next week – said there was "absolutely" a direct link between climate change, terrorism, and the conflict in Syria. The interview was filmed three weeks ago, according to Sky, well before the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris.

"Some of us were saying 20 something years ago that if we didn't tackle these issues, you would see ever greater conflict over scarce resources and ever greater difficulties over drought, and the accumulating effect of climate change which means that people have to move," he said. 

"And in fact there's very good evidence indeed that one of the major reasons for this horror in Syria, funnily enough, was a drought that lasted for about five or six years, which meant that huge numbers of people in the end had to leave the land but increasingly they came into the cities," he added.

And far greater problems lie ahead if climate change is not addressed immediately, he continued.

"We never deal with the underlying root cause which regrettably what we're doing to our natural environment," he said.

While researchers are reluctant to identify climate change as the direct cause of any specific conflict, there is a growing consensus that climate change is going to make conflicts more common.

A 2013 survey of several studies on the issue found that significantly warmer temperatures and increases in extreme rainfall could increase the risk of "group conflict" by 56 percent over today’s risk, while the risk of "individual conflict" could rise by 16 percent, as Pete Spotts of The Christian Science Monitor reported.

Still, Mr. Spotts wrote, climate change is unlikely to ever be the only factor – or even the most important factor – at play in any one conflict.

"The researchers caution that climate clearly is not the only factor at work," he wrote. "Not all climate events affect all conflicts. Nor does a changing climate alone determine whether conflicts will occur."

The issue has also got the attention of senior members of America’s military. Last October, then-US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a speech that "rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict."

And in May, President Obama said in a commencement address at the Coast Guard Academy that "no nation is immune" to the security threats posed by climate change.

"Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country," he added.

Material from Reuters was used in this report.

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