LONDON (Reuters) - The head of a British climate research institute has stepped aside after hacked e-mails were seized upon by sceptics as evidence that the case for global warming has been exaggerated.
Phil Jones, head of the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia, will step aside "until the completion of an independent review," the university said in a statement.
"It is an important step to ensure that CRU can continue to operate normally," University Vice-Chancellor Professor Edward Acton said after accepting Jones' offer to stand aside.
Dubbing the affair "Climategate," some climate change sceptics have seized upon the e-mails, some of them written 13 years ago, and accused scientists at CRU of colluding to suppress data that might have undermined their arguments.
In the United States, some Republican politicians opposed to climate change legislation pounced on the controversy, calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to stop climate change regulatory efforts, which they say are based on "dubious science."
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson responded that her agency's work "is proceeding."
"At this point I have seen nothing that indicates that scientists out there have said that they've changed their consensus" that human actions contribute to global warming, she said.
"These emails certainly may show some poor manners, maybe more ... but what we have to be constantly looking at is the science."
The Obama administration wants Congress to pass comprehensive legislation controlling greenhouse gas emissions but says it stands ready to regulate if legislative efforts fail.
Sceptics have pointed to phrases in the e-mails in which climate scientists talk of using a "trick" to "hide the decline" in temperatures as evidence that they adjusted data to fit their theories. CRU denies any manipulation.
Delegates meet in Copenhagen for a December 7-18 talks to try to work out a new U.N. pact to address global warming.
The head of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate (IPCC) Change, Rajendra Pachauri, told Reuters last week that the leaks do not affect findings in 2007 that it was more than 90 percent certain that human activities were causing climate change.
"This private communication in no way damages the credibility of the ... findings," he said, saying that all conclusions were subjected to rigorous review.
Some CRU researchers contribute to the IPCC's reports that pull together data from scientists around the world in an attempt to give a consensus view on climate change.
"Opposition groups are taking passages out of context to try to undermine public confidence in climate science," the Union of Concerned Scientists said in a statement Wednesday.
"Even without data from CRU, there is still an overwhelming body of evidence that human activity (is) triggering dangerous levels of global warming," it said.
Additional reporting by Richard Cowan in Washington; Editing by Robin Pomeroy