SAUDI Arabia has seized on a series of stolen British university emails to become the first country to cast doubt on the consensus about man-made climate change ahead of next week's Copenhagen summit.
The world's largest oil exporter claims the emails stolen from researchers at the University of East Anglia undermine the scientific case that human activity is overheating the planet.
Britain's Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change, Ed Miliband, yesterday said it was "absolute and utter nonsense" to suggest the controversial emails weakened the evidence about climate change.
The emails were illegally hacked from a computer system at the University of East Anglia and then stored on a Russian web server. On November 19, a computer in Saudi Arabia was used to post a link to the stolen emails on a website popular with climate change sceptics and deniers.
The emails, private exchanges of messages and data from climate researchers at the university, were pounced on by sceptics who said they revealed an unprofessional and combative approach towards critics of the mainstream view of climate change.
Professor Jones says the emails were "taken completely out of context" and that the university's findings on global warming are backed by at least two research centres in the US.
"One has to wonder if it is a coincidence that this email correspondence has been stolen and published at this time. This may be a concerted attempt to put a question mark over the science of climate change in the run-up to the Copenhagen talks," he said.
Saudi Arabia has long been reluctant to agree to any action to reduce carbon emissions and has only recently gone along with the 192 other governments attending the Copenhagen talks in accepting scientific evidence of man-made climate change.
But its chief Copenhagen negotiator, Mohammad al-Sabban, suggested in an interview with the BBC yesterday that there was now no longer any point in seeking an agreement to reduce emissions.
"It appears from the details . . . that there is no relationship whatsoever between human activities and climate change," he said.
"Climate is changing . . . but for natural and not human-induced reasons. So whatever the international community does to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will have no effect on the climate's natural variability."
His government might be prepared to take "no cost" measures to control emissions but more drastic and painful action would be out of the question until there was "new evidence" about what was causing climate change, he said.
Mr Miliband poured scorn on such doubts when he spoke to a press briefing attended by The Weekend Australian in London shortly before the broadcast of Mr al-Sabban's comments.
"There will be people who want to jump on these emails and somehow say these disprove climate change is happening," Mr Miliband said.
"That is absolute and utter nonsense, frankly. I think it is very easy to take emails out of context.
"There is an inquiry going on in East Anglia into the precise nature of these emails and what they said but I think it is really important that we are responsible in this."