Copenhagen: The question of whether climate change research data is being manipulated to suit the views of the opposing camps in the debate over global warming has erupted with renewed force as the Copenhagen summit gets into full swing.
The 'Climategate' row was sparked by a stream of leaked emails from researchers at Britain's East Anglia University, the country's leading centre for research into global warming, which sceptics claimed were proof that data had been manipulated.
The material was taken from servers at the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit (CRU) before it was published on websites run by sceptics. But climate change fighters claimed it was an attempt to undermine the Copenhagen summit.
The row heated up this week when Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the renowned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told the conference in Copenhagen that climate change sceptics were ready to 'flout the law' to get their viewpoints across.
'The recent incident of stealing the emails of scientists at the University of East Anglia shows that some would go to the extent of carrying out illegal acts perhaps in an attempt to discredit the IPCC,' Pachauri said.
The remark prompted Mohammed al-Sabban, Saudi Arabia's chief climate negotiator to call for an immediate investigation.
'The level of trust is definitely shaken, especially now that we are about to conclude an agreement that... is going to mean sacrifices for our economies,' he said.
Al-Sabban demanded an 'independent' international investigation, but added that the IPCC was not qualified to carry it out.
'In light of recent information... the scientific scandal has assumed huge proportion,' said al-Sabban. 'We think it is definitely going to affect the nature of what can be trusted in the negotiations.'
However, UN climate chief Yvo de Boer said Tuesday he did not believe that the scandal would have a major impact on the summit discussions.
It was bad that the leak had happened, but it was good that it was now being investigated, said de Boer.
He added that he did not believe the credibility of the IPCC had been damaged - given the fact that as many as 2,500 scientists were involved in evaluating the research.
'If you put all reports together you see a very consistent trend,' he said.
Professor Phil Jones, director of the CRU, has temporarily stepped down over the controversy.
But he has dismissed as 'complete rubbish' the suggestion that the data provide evidence of a 'conspiracy to manipulate or hide data that do not support the theory of man-made climate change'.
In Britain, a police investigation is under way to discover how the material was hacked or leaked, while the university has ordered an independent review into the allegations.
According to a report in the Guardian newspaper Tuesday, two of the scientists involved in the affair have received death threats following the leak of their private emails.
However, no further information could be revealed as the emails in question were currently under investigation by the FBI in the US, the newspaper said. The incident has also provoked a response in the British parliament, where Phil Willis, chairman of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, has asked for a 'comprehensive note' from the university to explain what happened.
It also called for the university to set out the steps taken to investigate the allegations and test the integrity of the data held by the unit.
The CRU should 'justify its commitment to academic transparency' and set out ways of how it proposed 'to restore confidence in the research,' Willis' letter said.
The committee, which said it may ask the university to appear to give oral evidence, asked for an assurance that none of the data referred to in the emails which have been published has been destroyed.
Meanwhile, some fellow scientists expressed little surprise at the tactics being used.
'We have always had a very vocal minority of people who have long since decided to ignore the science and the data and take a deliberately and completely contrarian view, and who have always and constantly accused climate scientists of falsehood and being in it for the money,' Andy Ridgwell, a climate scientist at Bristol University, told the Guardian Tuesday.
That minority, according to Ridgwell, had been claiming for a decade that the sky was falling in on climate change science. 'There is nothing left that is new or different that they can claim or accuse us of,' said Ridgwell.