The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have achieved widespread influence among various state, non-state, and sub-state actors globally. Although the UN General Assembly intended the SDGs for national governments, local-level actors have emerged as key stakeholders. Human rights movements have long advocated for the inclusion of local voices in the development of international law and mechanisms, so that these global agreements explicitly engage with communities’ lived experiences. I link these two phenomena to investigate the SDGs as a tool for human rights promotion and protection at the most local level of governance. I explore how local-level actors use the SDGs to advance human rights, especially where local governments have committed to SDG implementation, in the case of Los Angeles. The case demonstrates how human rights experts, practitioners, and advocates work through the SDGs to: 1) build capacity and partnerships towards integrating human rights in priority issue areas; 2) set agenda that respond to gaps in meeting international commitments and the needs of the local communities; and 3) strengthen or establish institutions dedicated to their advancement. However, for the SDGs to be a vehicle of human rights, local governments must meaningfully represent and include those furthest behind first.
"Crises of Confidence: Subnational Capacity and Decentralized Disaster Aid"
When and where do natural disasters lead to cooperation? Environmental security scholars have long grappled with the security dimension of climate change phenomena, including extreme weather events and natural disasters more broadly. While some researchers argue that natural disasters trigger resource competition and exacerbate political instability, others have noted the weak causal relationship between natural disasters and intra- and interstate conflict. However, answers to these questions are largely dependent on the level of analysis. Drawing from conflict, political economy, and state capacity scholarship, I hypothesize that natural disasters lead to regional cooperation where they impact urban centers integrated into vast economic networks and experiencing stronger subnational capacity. However, they lead to intrastate violence where they impact rural areas that are less economically integrated and less capable of handling disaster events. In times of crises, local governments in rural areas may also actively seek out aid and cooperation. To test my hypotheses, I conduct a quantitative analysis linking subnational data from key conflict and disaster datasets, and an exploratory case study on conflict and cooperation in the post-Haiyan disaster context. When framing disasters as simultaneous shocks to local and global systems, I find support for my theorized variation in outcomes across urban and rural spaces. Thus, natural disasters exert different pressures, in different directions at the local and international levels. As natural disasters have the potential to foment instability and violence at the local, rural level, they may simultaneously foster cooperation at the international and regional level.
"From Gatekeepers to Keys: The United Nations System and Local Authorities"
How have international organizations (IOs) recognized cities as international actors? Scholars have written extensively on the legitimacy and authority of international organizations. However, the prominence of IOs in global agenda-setting raises questions about their capacity to not just hold, but also delegate authority. Focusing on the case of the United Nations system and sub-state actors (i.e., city governments), I draw from institutionalist theory to first argue that IOs are themselves able to grant authority through various mechanisms, such as by granting observer status (via UN General Assembly), holding events, and providing various financial and capacity-building resources among others. Second, I suggest that this shift is largely a response to the advocacy of institutionalized city partnerships and concerted framing of various issues as requiring the expertise and cooperation of not just state, but local governments. Thus, the authority of city governments as international actors occurs where international organizations reach out to connect, consult, or even appeal to sub-state actors for their various programming and agenda. Using archival research, I provide preliminary evidence on how the gradual rise of cities in global governance can be traced to the growing prevalence of local governments and local issues in various UN agendas. These findings complicate state-centric conceptions of global governance while contributing to the empirical base for research on cities in international relations.