The climate secretary, Ed Miliband, last night warned of the danger of a public backlash against the science of global warming in the face of continuing claims that experts have manipulated data.
In an exclusive interview with the Observer, Miliband spoke out for the first time about last month's revelations that climate scientists had withheld and covered up information and the apology made by the influential UN climate body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which admitted it had exaggerated claims about the melting of Himalayan glaciers.
The perceived failure of global talks on combating climate change in Copenhagen last month has also been blamed for undermining public support. But in the government's first high-level recognition of the growing pressure on public opinion, Miliband declared a "battle" against the "siren voices" who denied global warming was real or caused by humans, or that there was a need to cut carbon emissions to tackle it.
"It's right that there's rigour applied to all the reports about climate change, but I think it would be wrong that when a mistake is made it's somehow used to undermine the overwhelming picture that's there," he said.
"We know there's a physical effect of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leading to higher temperatures, that's a question of physics; we know CO2 concentrations are at their highest for 6,000 years; we know there are observed increases in temperatures; and we know there are observed effects that point to the existence of human-made climate change. That's what the vast majority of scientists tell us."
Mistakes and attempts to hide contradictory data had to be seen in the light of the thousands of pages of evidence in the IPCC's four-volume report in 2007, said Miliband. The most recent accusation about the panel's work is that its chairman, Rajendra Pachauri, may have known before the Copenhagen summit that its assessment report had seriously exaggerated the rate of melting of the Himalayan glaciers.
However, Miliband was adamant that the IPCC was on the right track. "It's worth saying that no doubt when the next report comes out it will suggest there have been areas where things have been happening more dramatically than the 2007 report implied," he said.
The danger of climate scepticism was that it would undermine public support for unpopular decisions needed to curb carbon emissions, including the likelihood of higher energy bills for households, and issues such as the visual impact of wind turbines, said Miliband, who is also energy secretary.
Also: The big issue: Sceptics fiddle while the planet burns
Click to read more from Juliette Jowit, environment editor, The Observer
Updated below from the DAILY MAIL & BBC