In the face of the global recession and decelerating world economy, the UN is placing a word limit on the flood of documents produced by its offices.  It is an attempt to meet Ban-Ki Moon’s call in March for a 3% cut to the current $5.16 billion budget for 2012-2013.

Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, the UN’s Director-General in Geneva, told diplomats attending the Conference on Disarmament (August 11) that reports by UN intergovernmental bodies should henceforth be no longer than 10,700 words to deal with “increasing financial constraints and the strain on translation services.”

The US Ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, said that Ban’s focus on long-term cost reduction was undoubtedly prompted by discussions earlier this year with US President Barack Obama, regarding the “shared agenda to build on the strengths of the United Nations while pursuing and implementing very important management reforms as well as budgetary discipline". 

The US is the single largest donor to the UN, covering 22% of its regular budget.  The economic downturns in the US and Europe and the disastrous March earthquake that hit the UN's second-largest donor, Japan, have put austerity measures squarely on the UN agenda.

“This is a wonderful idea, but organizations in general should be looking to reduce the natural resources they consume, budgetary considerations aside” said Adam Koniuszewski of  Geneva-based Green Cross International, an environmental organization founded in 1993 by former Soviet leader, Mikhael Gorbachev. 

"I think it’s worth looking at the (paper) waste generated not only by the UN, but by (other) organizations, NGOs and businesses as a whole," he added.