The surprise return of David (now Lord) Cameron to front line cabinet duty was the big story in politics last week. Our new foreign secretary has stature and experience, but he also has difficult global problems to grapple with: conflict in the Middle East, a continuing war of attrition in Ukraine, and tricky relations with the rest of Europe as the consequences of Brexit play out. I genuinely hope that he can make some progress with these seemingly intractable situations.

But looming beyond the current conflicts is an even greater one: the terrifying prospect of runaway climate change. 2023 will soon be confirmed as the warmest year on record, and just as scientists have warned, we are seeing disruption to the planet’s weather systems: wildfires and crop failures, record heatwaves in some places and more intense rainfall events in others – Storm Babet being a recent example which affected communities here in Suffolk.

I am convinced that climate change is the key issue of our times, and probably the biggest challenge that mankind has ever faced. Unfortunately, Cameron’s track record on this is poor. As Prime Minister, despite some warm words about environmental issues in public, in 2014 his government ripped up the Code for Sustainable Homes and other environmental regulations. This has led to a decade of new homes built to lower environmental standards, costing residents more to heat and producing higher carbon emissions. If he did tell civil servants to “cut the green crap,” as reported, this was not the long-term vision that our country and the planet needs.

The reshuffle looks like the last throw of the dice from Rishi Sunak, desperate to bring some gravitas into his squabbling government as we count down towards a general election. The Prime Minister is by all accounts a diligent, hard-working man, but recent decisions show that he is also capable of a calculated political gamble. Perhaps it was the surprise by-election result in Uxbridge which gave him the idea: the narrow Conservative win was attributed to their candidate campaigning against extending the London Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). Deep inside Conservative central office, strategists decided that there are votes to be gained in pushing back on the green agenda. Soon Sunak was unveiling a series of policy reversals designed to create clear blue water between his government and those woolly-minded environmental idealists: Watering down previous commitments, such as a deadline for sales of new petrol and diesel cars and the installation of new gas boilers. Also doing away with the requirement for landlords to insulate homes.

In my opinion, this change of tack is wrong, not just for the planet but also electorally for the Conservatives. Opinion polls going back over many years have shown that there is widespread support for sensible measures which address the challenge of climate change, and the government’s U-turns have not given them any discernible boost in the polls. Here in Mid Suffolk we have concrete evidence of the level of public concern about the planet: 56% of voters chose the Green Party in the local elections back in May.

In the absence of national leadership on the defining issue of our times, those of us in local government are doing all that we can. As a new administration in Mid Suffolk district, we have just finished consulting residents on our priorities, and the early results indicate that people agree with us putting environmental issues at the top of our agenda. We will be considering nature and the planet in all that the council does, and last week we launched our first big initiative, the Cosy Homes scheme. Too many houses still have inadequate insulation and draughtproofing, so we have put £2 million from the council’s reserves into a programme that will install this free of charge to qualifying households. For more details, call the council or look on our website. Like so many environmental measures, there are co-benefits: Not only lower bills and warmer homes for residents, but also reduced emissions and pollution.

Today the chancellor Jeremy Hunt will be delivering his autumn statement in the House of Commons. There are rumours of tax cuts, perhaps one final attempt to raise the government’s fortunes. However, I think that millions of people are looking for something else: a sign that our national leaders take the threat of global warming seriously. Here’s a suggestion for you, Mr Hunt: Fund a comprehensive, national programme to retrofit homes. Not a U-turn, but a step in the right direction.

Councillor Andy Mellen is the leader of Mid Suffolk District Council