The Research Unit Sustainability and Global change was founded in 2000 as an endowed chair by the Michael Otto Foundation. Prof. Dr. Klaus Hasselmann, the founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Lütje, the then president of Hamburg University, and Dr. Michael Otto initiated its foundation with the goal to bridge a crucial gap between disciplinary research and societal needs.
Since 2005, the Research Unit is on Hamburg University’s core funding. Prof. Dr. Richard Tol acted as its first chair, from 2000 until 2006. After he had left Hamburg University, Dr. Uwe Schneider acted as executive chair until Prof. Dr. Hermann Held was appointed as the new chair in 2010. Today, the Research Unit executes the rights and duties equivalent to one of the traditional institute of CEN.