While Ukraine's political situation remains uncertain, its economy teeters on the brink

If the political instability is not reined in soon enough, the currency will spiral out of control.

As the protests in Ukraine have escalated over the last three months, President Viktor Yanukovych has appeared progressively weaker. The timing of his sick leave last week could not have been more apt. The president has now offered a raft of substantive concessions in a bid to appease the protesters, not least the chance to lead a new cabinet, but in every instance he has been rebuffed. His subsequent decision to take leave was a signal that his options have rapidly reduced.

The government’s resignation was a serious blow to Yanukovych’s legitimacy. Without a cabinet underneath him he has become an isolated figure. The opposition recognises this and in the ensuing negotiations will maintain their stance of demanding early presidential and parliamentary elections.

As a western observer, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is an overwhelming majority of Ukrainians in favour of EU integration, with Vladmir Putin and Yanukovych the only figures standing in their way. But in reality the country is bitterly divided: Western Ukraine has very strong cultural and linguistic ties with Russia, and its inhabitants are deeply concerned about the impact of competition from the EU on its dilapidated, yet important industrial sector. Even the opposition is not unified, and it is difficult to reconcile the views held by the far-right nationalist party, Svoboda (which is at the vanguard of the current movement), with the EU’s supranational mantra. In any case, an election held in the current atmosphere would surely serve as a de facto referendum on EU integration, but it would undoubtedly be a close-run contest.

While Ukraine’s future continues to be contested, its economy teeters on the brink. So far Russian bond purchases and gas price concessions have provided a financial buffer, but if Yanukovych’s grip on power is eroded further and an opposition-led government becomes more likely, this support could be revised and potentially withdrawn. The EU would not be able to step in without major political reforms inside the country and in the meantime bond yields would rise amid sustained downward pressure on the currency.

Moody’s have already downgraded Ukraine’s sovereign rating to Caa2 with a negative outlook, citing growing strains on liquidity caused by the surging demand for dollars as the domestic population seek to convert their savings. On 31 January the hryvnia fell 2.5 per cent against the dollar – the largest single-day loss in almost five years. This is of significant concern, as with a USD15 billion loan from Russia, the government had spent several weeks using its financial reserves to prop up the country.

As the central bank has scaled back its commitment to maintaining a dollar-peg, this downward pressure is manageable in the short-term. Within the context of low inflation and slow export growth, it could even provide a boost. The danger, however, is that if the political instability is not reined in soon enough, the currency will spiral out of control, placing increased pressure on the corporate and financial sectors so as to impinge on their ability to service foreign debt.

The insurance market is acutely aware of this risk, and accordingly, capacity for credit cover on Ukrainian counterparties is exceedingly tight. It is set to remain so for the rest of Q1 and beyond.

Anti-government protesters on a barricade in Kiev on 7 February, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.

JLT Head of Credit & Political Risk Advisory

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How “cli-fi” novels humanise the science of climate change

The paradox is that the harder climate-fiction novels try, the less effective they are.

When the Paris UN Climate Change Conference begins at the end of November, the world’s leaders will review the climate framework agreed in Rio in 1992. For well over 20 years, the world has not just been thinking and talking about climate change, it has also been writing and reading about it, in blogs, newspapers, magazines – and in novels.

Climate change fiction is now a recognisable literary phenomenon replete with its own nickname: “cli-fi”. The term was coined in 2007 by Taiwan-based blogger Dan Bloom. Since then, its use has spread: it was even tweeted by Margaret Atwood in 2013:

It is not a genre in the accepted scholarly sense, since it lacks the plot formulas or stylistic conventions that tend to define genres (such as science fiction or the western). However, it does name a remarkable recent literary and publishing trend.

A 21st-century phenomenon?

Putting a number to this phenomenon depends, partly, on how one defines cli-fi. How much of a novel has to be devoted to climate change before it is considered cli-fi? Should we restrict the term to novels about man-made global warming? (If we don’t, we should remember that narratives about global climatic change are as old as The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Biblical story of the flood.) If we define cli-fi as fictional treatments of climate change caused by human activity in terms of setting, theme or plot – and accept there will be grey areas in the extent of this treatment – a conservative estimate would put the all-time number of cli-fi novels at 150 and growing. This is the figure put forward by Adam Trexler, who has worked with me to survey the development of cli-fi.

This definition also gives us a start date for cli-fi’s history. While planetary climatic change occurs in much 20th-century science fiction, it is only after growing scientific awareness of specifically man-made, carbon-induced climate change in the 1960s and 1970s that novels on this subject emerged. The first is Arthur Herzog’s Heat in 1976, followed by George Turner’s The Sun and the Summer (published in the US as Drowning Towers) in 1987.

At the turn of this century, Maggie Gee and TC Boyle were among the first mainstream authors to publish climate change novels. In this century, we can count Atwood, Michael Crichton, Barbara Kingsolver, Ian McEwan, Kim Stanley Robinson, Ilija Trojanow and Jeanette Winterson as major authors who have written about climate change. The past five years have given us notable examples of cli-fi by emerging authors, such as Steven Amsterdam, Edan Lepucki, Jane Rawson, Nathaniel Rich and Antti Tuomainen.

Creative challenges

Cli-fi is all the more noteworthy considering the creative challenge posed by climate change. First, there is the problem of scale – spatial and temporal. Climate change affects the entire planet and all its species – and concerns the end of this planet as we know it. Novels, by contrast, conventionally concern the actions of individual protagonists and/or, sometimes, small communities.

Added to this is the networked nature of climate change: in physical terms, the climate is a large, complex system whose effects are difficult to model. In socio-cultural terms, solutions require intergovernmental agreement – just what COP21 intends – and various top-down and bottom-up transformations. Finally, there exists the difficulty of translating scientific information, with all its predictive uncertainty, into something both accurate and interesting to the average reader.

Still, cli-fi writers have adopted a range of strategies to engage their readers. Many cli-fi novels could be classified as dystopian, post-apocalyptic or, indeed, both – depicting nightmarish societies triggered by sometimes catastrophic climate events. A future world is one effective way of narrating the planetary condition of climate change.

Some novelists are also careful to underpin their scenarios with rigorous climatic predictions and, in this way, translate science fact into a fictional setting. Kingsolver, who trained as an ecologist, is the best example of this – and Atwood and Robinson are also known for their attempts at making their speculations scientifically plausible. Also, cli-fi novels, particularly those set in the present day or very near future rather than in a dystopian future, tend to show the political or psychological dimensions of living with climate change. Readers can identify with protagonists. To some extent, the global community is represented in fictional everymen or everywomen. Or, often, it is through such characters that science is humanised and its role in combating climate change better understood.

Can cli-fi lead to change?

Could cli-fi affect how we think and act on climate change? The paradox is that the harder cli-fi tries, the less effective it is. Many writers want to inspire change, not insist on it: the line between literature and propaganda is one that most novelists respect. Literature invites us to inhabit other worlds and live other lives. Cli-fi at its best lets us travel to climate-changed worlds, to strive there alongside others and then to return armed with that experience.

In Paris, the UN will seek a global agreement on climate action for the first time in more than 20 years. There is plenty of climate change fiction out there to help provide the mental and psychological space to consider that action.

The Conversation

Adeline Johns-Putra, Reader in English Literature, University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.