LONDON (AFP)— A top UN panel is to probe claims that British scientists sought to suppress data backing climate change sceptics' views, its head said on Friday ahead of the landmark Copenhagen summit.
Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the claims -- which led a top expert to leave his post temporarily this week -- were serious and needed to be investigated.
Professor Phil Jones has stood aside as head of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, after emails allegedly calling into question the scientific basis for climate change fears were posted online.
Hackers penetrated the centre's network and posted online thousands of emails from researchers, including Jones, ahead of the Copenhagen summit which starts Monday.
The CRU at the university in Norwich, eastern England, is a world-leader in the field.
Pachauri, head of the Nobel Prize-winning UN panel since 2002, told BBC radio: "We will certainly go into the whole lot and then we will take a position on it.
"We certainly don't want to brush anything under the carpet. This is a serious issue and we will look into it in detail," he added.
In one private email stolen by hackers, Jones referred to a "trick" being employed to massage temperature statistics to "hide the decline".
The academic said the emails had been taken out of context to suggest that scientists were trying to suppress data which did not support the view that climate change is happening, and is man-made.
"The word 'trick' was used here colloquially as in a clever thing to do. It is ludicrous to suggest that it refers to anything untoward," he said last month.
The row has reached the US Congress, where climate change sceptics are seeking to thwart key legislation.
The leader of a group of so-called "climatology sceptics", Republican James Sensenbrenner, said "if the emails are genuine it is very disturbing because they call into question the whole science of climate change."
Sceptics, including many US Republicans, say global temperatures may be warming naturally, and argue the costs of enforced measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions will be too heavy.
Amid the escalating row over the emails, a key Saudi official said the case will have a "huge impact" on the December 7-18 Copenhagen summit, aimed at forging a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocol which expires in 2012.
"It appears from the details of the scandal that there is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change," Riyadh's chief climate negotiator Mohammad Al-Sabban told the BBC.
"Climate is changing for thousands of years, but for natural and not human-induced reasons," added the official, whose country is the world's biggest oil producer.
Britain's climate change minister Ed Miliband said the row should not be allowed to distract from the key message about climate change.
"We need maximum transparency including about all the data but it's also very, very important to say one chain of emails, potentially misrepresented, does not undo the global science," he said.
"The science is very clear about climate change and people should be in no doubt about that. There will be people that want to use this to try and undermine the science and we're not going to let them," he added.
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