The Research Unit Sustainability and Global Change was founded as an endowed chair by the Michael Otto Foundation in 2000. Prof. Klaus Hasselmann, the founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Prof. Jürgen Lütje, president of Hamburg University at the time, and Dr. Michael Otto spearheaded its creation, the goal being to bridge a crucial gap between academic research and societal needs.
Since 2005, the Research Unit has been supported by Hamburg University’s core funding. Prof. Richard Tol served as its first chair, from 2000 to 2006. Dr. Uwe Schneider served as executive chair until Prof. Dr. Hermann Held was appointed as new chair in 2010. The Research Unit enjoys the same rights and responsibilities as the traditional institutes at the Department of Earth Sciences. In 2021, a second chair joined the Research Unit: Prof. Dr. Jana Sillmann, Chair for ‘Climate Statistics and Climate Extremes’. Since then, the Unit’s updated name is ‘Research Unit for Sustainability and Climate Risks’.