Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday from Paris that climate change is contributing to the flight of thousands of people from Syria into the eastern edges of Europe.
While most say the refugees are being driven out by Syria's brutal civil war, Kerry was asked in Paris by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman whether climate might also be a factor.
Friedman said he was in northern Syria in 2013, and said people were already being driven out by the "terrible drought" in Syria. Friedman then asked Kerry how much of the refugee crisis is "climate driven."
"Well, there's a percentage, Tom," Kerry replied. "I don't have the ability to tell you sort of the full degree."
Kerry acknowledged that while he thinks climate is a factor in the crisis, "it's not the majority" factor. Still, he said, climate seemed to play a role in creating the conditions for a civil war in Syria that is the main cause of the refugee crisis.
"About a million people plus, I think about a million two to a million five moved because of a massive drought in Syria towards Damascus," he said. "And clearly, that was destabilizing to some degree because you had a massive Sunni population moving in. And as the civil war began to take hold, they began to take sides and had an impact."
Kerry then elaborated that the far biggest problem in Syria are basic issues like governance and corruption. He said the Syrian war started when young people protested for the lack of jobs and were met by President Bashar Assad's "thugs."
But when Friedman pressed Kerry to say whether those factors are all being "fueled by climate stressed," Kerry said he agreed.
"Absolutely," Kerry said. "Absolutely. If you can't get food easily, if the food is too high priced, if you can't – I mean, various things contribute to that."
Kerry stressed that it's the combination of factors, but even then, he warned it could get worse if countries don't act now to limit climate change.
"I'm not going to sit here and say it's all climate driven," he said. "It could be more climate driven in the future if we don't respond properly, because you're going to have more massive dislocations."