How social movements contribute to staying within the global carbon budget: Evidence from a qualitative meta-analysis of case studies

May Aye Thiri*, Sergio Villamayor-Tomás, Arnim Scheidel, Federico Demaria

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


Despite renewed efforts to combat climate change, it remains uncertain how economies will achieve emission reduction by 2050. Among different decarbonisation strategies, knowledge about the potential role and contributions of social movements to curbing carbon emissions has been limited. This study aims to shed light on the diverse contributions of social movements to staying within the global carbon budget, as well as on the specific outcomes and strategies employed in protests against hydrocarbon activities. For this purpose, we conduct a systematic literature review of 57 empirical cases of social movements contesting fossil fuel projects in 29 countries. Based on an exploratory approach, we identify a series of different movement strategies and a range of qualitative contributions that support staying within the carbon budget. These include raising awareness of risks and strategies, enhancing corporate responsibility, being informed about policy changes, laws and regulations, fostering just energy transitions, energy democracy, divestment, alternative market solutions, and forcing the postponement or cancellation of targeted hydrocarbon activities. While the institutional means are widely used and seem to support policy change and regulation, these strategies are not used to deliver awareness or postponement outcomes. Similarly, while movements tend to rely on civil disobedience to stop hydrocarbon projects in the short term, they rely on multiple strategies to cancel them in the longer term. Our study also indicates significant knowledge gaps in the literature, particularly, cases in Africa and Central Asia, women's participation in these movements, in addition to more quantitative assessments of the actual emissions reduced by social movements.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107356
Number of pages22
JournalEcological Economics (Amsterdam)
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • Carbon budget
  • Carbon emissions
  • Climate change mitigation
  • Environmental justice
  • Meta-analysis
  • Social movements


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