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Professor Saffron O'Neill

Professor Saffron O'Neill

Professor in Climate & Society



 Amory C355c


Amory Building, University of Exeter, Rennes Drive, Exeter, EX4 4RJ , UK


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Saffron O’Neill is Professor in Geography. Her research explores the social science dimensions of climate variability and change, particularly focusing on communication and public engagement. Her research specialism is the visual communication of climate change. She held a Leverhulme Research Fellowship on this topic titled ‘The Visual Life of Climate Change’ (2021-2023) and an ESRC Future Leaders Fellowship (2012-2017).

Saffron is Co-Director of the Centre for Climate Communication and Data Science (C3DS) (2023-2025) funded by the Children's Investment Fund Foundation. Saffron is also a Co-Director (Communications and Outreach) of the ESRC-funded ACCESS network (Advancing Capacity for Climate and Environment Social Science) (2021-2026).

From 2023 onwards, Saffron is Director of EDI within the Geography department, a role shared with Dr Dunia Urrego. She is also a University Autism Champion.

Saffron tweets regularly: about climate change, communication, media, visuals, imagery and on working towards a more inclusive research culture. Find her @SaffronJONeill.


BSc Geography (University of Southampton: First Class Honours)
PhD in Environmental Science (University of East Anglia)


Research group links

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Research projects

Saffron's research is interdisciplinary, focusing on the social science dimensions of climate variability and climate change. Her work explores risk perception, risk communication and public engagement with climate change; and the implications of these areas for public policy. She has experience in using diverse social science methods. She has published research using survey, interview, focus group, expert elicitation, photo-elicitation and Q methods; and content and frame analysis.


2022 QUEX Institute Workshop Grant, 'Imagining a Fairer Future: Connecting the Frontiers of Visual Research' (PI) £3,000

2021 - 2023 Leverhulme Research Fellowship, 'The Visual Life of Climate Change'. (PI) (£50,833)

2021 ESRC Climate and Environment Leadership Grant, 'ACCESS (Advancing Capacity for Climate and Environment Social Science)', (co-I) £6,249,934

2021 - 2023 Children's Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) 'Evaluating the impact of climate communication' (Co-I) (£267,660)

2021 NERC Discipline Hopping for Environmental Solutions Fund, 'Climate change on YouTube: multi-scalar, multi-method approaches for understanding climate misinformation' (Co-I) (£9,118)

2019 - 2020 Norwegian Environment Agency, 'Topical Collection: Climate Communication and the IPCC' (PI) (250,000 kr / £20,733)

2019 - 2020 ESRC Impact Accelerator Account, ‘Picturing climate change: media training for human editors and machine algorithms (PI) (£4,938)

2012 - 2017 ESRC Future Research Leader fellowship: ‘Visualising climate change’ (PI) (£214,811)

2014 - 2015 ESRC Urgency Grant: 'The 2013/14 winter floods and policy change: the dynamics of change in the aftermath of major crises’ (Co-I) (£198,044)

2014 - 2015 HASS (Humanities and Social Science) Fund, University of Exeter, ‘Media and the cultural politics of climate: tracking the coverage of the IPCC 5AR’ (PI) (£9,971)

2011 – 2012 Early Career Researcher Grants Scheme, Melbourne University, Australia: ‘Visualising climate change: international perspectives on mitigation and adaptation’ (PI) (AU$19,103 / £11,880) 

From 2016-2022, Saffron has also supported ten PhD students through sucessful applications for PhD scholarship funding (five as lead supervisor, and five as co-supervisor). Eight of these studenships have been funded through the ESRC's SWDTP scheme, one as an industry/matched studentship, and one through the QUEX studentship scheme.

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Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S, Lorenzoni I (2012). Engaging the public with climate change: Behaviour change and communication. Abstract.
Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S (2012). Introduction: Opportunities for and barriers to engaging individuals with climate change.
Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S, Lorenzoni I (2011). Engaging the public with climate change: Communication and beahviour change., Earthscan / James & James. Abstract.

Journal articles

Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S, Lorenzoni I (In Press). Climate change or social change? Debate within, amongst and beyond disciplines. Environment and Planning A(43), 258-261. Abstract.
Kurz T, Prosser A, Rabinovich A, O'Neill S (In Press). Could vegans and lycra cyclists be bad for the planet? Theorising the role of Moralised Minority Practice Identities in processes of societal-level change. Journal of Social Issues
Devine-Wright P, Whitmarsh L, Gaterslaben B, O’Neill S, Hartley S, Burningham K, Sovacool B, Barr S, Anable J (In Press). Placing people at the heart of climate action. PLOS Climate
O'Neill S (2022). Defining a visual metonym: a hauntological study of polar bear imagery in climate communication. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 47(4), 1104-1119.
Treen K, Williams H, O’Neill S, Coan TG (2022). Discussion of Climate Change on Reddit: Polarized Discourse or Deliberative Debate?. Environmental Communication, 16(5), 680-698.
Lee K, O'Neill S, Blackwood L, Barnett J (2022). Perspectives of UK adolescents on the youth climate strikes. NATURE CLIMATE CHANGE, 12(6), 528-+.  Author URL.
Morrison TH, Adger WN, Agrawal A, Brown K, Hornsey MJ, Hughes TP, Jain M, Lemos MC, McHugh LH, O’Neill S, et al (2022). Radical interventions for climate-impacted systems. Nature Climate Change, 12(12), 1100-1106.
O'Neill S, Hayes S, Strauβ N, Doutreix M, Steentjes K, Ettinger J, Westwood N, Painter J (2022). Visual portrayals of fun in the sun in European news outlets misrepresent heatwave risks. The Geographical Journal, 189(1), 90-103. Abstract.
O'Neill S, Pidcock R (2021). Introducing the Topical Collection: 'Climate change communication and the IPCC'. CLIMATIC CHANGE, 169(3-4).  Author URL.
Hayes S, O'Neill S (2021). The Greta effect: Visualising climate protest in UK media and the Getty images collections. Global Environmental Change, 71, 102392-102392.
Mortreux C, O'Neill S, Barnett J (2020). Between adaptive capacity and action: new insights into climate change adaptation at the household scale. Environmental Research Letters, 15(7). Abstract.
Treen KMD, Williams HTP, O'Neill SJ (2020). Online misinformation about climate change. WIREs Climate Change, 11(5). Abstract.
Lee K, Gjersoe N, O'Neill S, Barnett J (2020). Youth perceptions of climate change: a narrative synthesis. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 11(3). Abstract.
O’Neill S (2019). More than meets the eye: a longitudinal analysis of climate change imagery in the print media. Climatic Change, 163(1), 9-26. Abstract.
Handmer J, Van der Merwe M, O'Neill S (2019). The risk of dying in bushfires: a comparative analysis of fatalities and survivors. Progress in Disaster Science, 1 Abstract.
O'Neill SJ, Graham S (2016). (En)visioning place-based adaptation to sea-level rise. Geo: Geography and Environment, 3(2), e00028-e00028.
Handmer J, O'Neill S (2016). Examining bushfire policy in action: Preparedness and behaviour in the 2009 Black Saturday fires. Environmental Science and Policy, 63, 55-62. Abstract.
O'Neill S, Williams HP, Kurz T, Wiersma B, Boykoff M (2015). Dominant frames in legacy and social media coverage of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. Nature Climate Change, 5, 380-385. Abstract.
O'Neill SJ, Smith N (2014). Climate change and visual imagery. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, 5(1), 73-87. Abstract.
Guy S, Kashima Y, Walker I, O'Neill S (2014). Investigating the effects of knowledge and ideology on climate change beliefs. European Journal of Social Psychology, 44(5), 421-429. Abstract.
Guy S, Kashima Y, Walker I, O'Neill S (2013). Comparing the atmosphere to a bathtub: Effectiveness of analogy for reasoning about accumulation. Climatic Change, 121(4), 579-594. Abstract.
O'Neill SJ (2013). Image matters: Climate change imagery in US, UK and Australian newspapers. Geoforum, 49, 10-19. Abstract.
Barnett J, O'Neill SJ (2013). Minimising the risk of maladaptation: a framework for analysis. , 87-93. Abstract.
O'Neill SJ, Boykoff M, Niemeyer S, Day SA (2013). On the use of imagery for climate change engagement. Global Environmental Change, 23(2), 413-421. Abstract.
Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S, Lorenzoni I (2013). Public engagement with climate change: What do we know and where do we go from here?. International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics, 9(1), 7-25. Abstract.
Barnett J, O’Neill S, Waller S, Rogers S (2013). Reducing the risk of maladaptation in response to sea-level rise and urban water scarcity. , 37-49.
Barnett J, O'Neill S (2012). Islands, resettlement and adaptation. Nature Climate Change 2, 8-10.
O'Neill S, Handmer J (2012). Responding to bushfire risk: the need for transformative adaptation. Environmental Research Letters(7). Abstract.
Hulme M, O'Neill SJ, Dessai S (2011). Climate change. Is weather event attribution necessary for adaptation funding?. Science, 334(6057), 764-765.  Author URL.
Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S, Lorenzoni I (2011). Commentary. Environment and Planning A, 43(2), 258-261.
Whitmarsh L, Seyfang G, O'Neill S (2011). Public engagement with carbon and climate change: to what extent is the public 'carbon capable'?. Global Environmental Change, 21(1), 56-65. Abstract.
O'Neill SJ, Boykoff M (2010). Climate denier, skeptic, or contrarian?. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(39).
O'Neill SJ, Hulme M, Turnpenny J, Screen JA (2010). Disciplines, geography, and gender in the framing of climate change. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 91(8), 997-1002. Abstract.
Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S (2010). Green identity, green living? the role of pro-environmental self-identity in determining consistency across diverse pro-environmental behaviours. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30(3), 305-314. Abstract.
Barnett J, O'Neill S (2010). Maladaptation. Global Environmental Change, 211-213.
O'Neill S, Nicholson-Cole S (2009). "fear won't do it": Promoting positive engagement with climate change through visual and iconic representations. Science Communication, 30(3), 355-379. Abstract.
O'Neill SJ, Hulme M (2009). An iconic approach for representing climate change. Global Environmental Change, 19(4), 402-410. Abstract.
O'Neill S, Nicholson-Cole S (2009). Fear won't do it: promoting positive engagement with climate change through imagery and icons. Science Communication, 355-379.
Ockwell D, Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S (2009). Reorienting climate change communication for effective mitigation: Forcing people to be green or fostering grass-roots engagement?. Science Communication, 30(3), 305-327. Abstract.
O'Neill SJ, Osborn TJ, Hulme M, Lorenzoni I, Watkinson AR (2008). Using expert knowledge to assess uncertainties in future polar bear populations under climate change. Journal of Applied Ecology, 45(6), 1649-1659. Abstract.


Ockwell D, O’Neill S, Whitmarsh L (2013). Behavioural insights. In  (Ed) Routledge Handbook of Climate Change and Society, Taylor & Francis.
O'Neill S, Boykoff M (2012). The role of new media in engaging the public with climate change. In  (Ed) Engaging the Public with Climate Change: Behaviour Change and Communication, 233-251.
O'Neill S, Boykoff M (2011). The role of new media in engaging individuals with climate change. In Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S, Lorenzoni I (Eds.) Engaging the public with climate change: Communication and behaviour change, London: Earthscan, 233-251. Abstract.
Ockwell D, O'Neill S, Whitmarsh L (2010). Behavioural insights: motivating individual emissions cuts through communication. In Lever-Tracy C (Ed) Routledge Handbook of Climate Change and Society, Routledge, 341-350. Abstract.
Rabinovich A, Morton TA, Duke C (2010). Collective self and individual choice: the role of social comparisons in promoting public engagement with climate change. In Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S (Eds.) Engaging the public with climate change: Communication and behaviour change, Earthscan.
Whitmarsh L, O'Neill S, Seyfang G, Lorenzoni I (2009). Carbon capability. In Stibbe A (Ed) The handbook of sustainability literacy, UK: Green Books, 124-129. Abstract.


O'Neill S, Whitmarsh L (2009). Encouraging climate change engagement through affective connections.


Butler C, Walker-Springett K, Adger WN, Evans L, O'Neill S (2016). Social and Political Dynamics of Flood Risk, Recovery and Response.A Report of the Findings of the Winter Floods Project. Exeter, University of Exeter.
Handmer J, O'Neill S, Killalea D (2010). Review of fatalities in the February 7th 2009 bushfires: a report prepared for the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission. Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, Centre for Risk and Community Safety, RMIT University and Bushfire CRC. Abstract.

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External Engagement and Impact

Significant Impact

Commissioned by the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission in 2010 to analyse emergency response following the 2009 Australian bushfires, and this influenced subsequent policy change in Victoria.

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Saffron is not currently teaching as she holds a Leverhulme Research Fellowship. Saffron usually convenes the interdisciplinary GEO2317 module (Climate Change: Science and Society) and contributes to a vairety of others through the undergraduate and Masters-level Geography programmes.



Information not currently available

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Supervision / Group

Postdoctoral researchers

Postgraduate researchers

  • Sophie Guy Psychology, University of Melbourne, Australia; co-supervision with Yoshihisa Kashima and Iain Walker
  • Colette Mortreux Geography, University of Melbourne, Australia; co-supervision with Jon Barnett
  • Bouke Wiersma Geography, University of Exeter; co-supervision with Patrick Devine-Wright

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