Conservation of natural resources is now usually embraced in the broader conception of conserving the earth itself by protecting its capacity for self-renewal. Particularly complex are the problems of nonrenewable resources such as oil and coal (see energy, sources of) and other minerals in great demand. Current thinking also favors the protection of entire ecological regions by the creation of “biosphere reserves.” Examples of such conservation areas include the Great Barrier Reef off Australia and Adirondack State Park in the United States. The importance of reconciling human use and conservation beyond the boundaries of parks has become another important issue.
The commitment of nations to conservation policies varies. Some nations, such as Iraq, Cambodia, and the republics of the former Soviet Union, have no protected areas, while 38% of Ecuador's land is protected and 44% of Luxembourg's is. (In the United States 7% of the land is protected.) Plants and animals have been protected through curtailment of whaling and the taking of porpoises in tuna seines and restrictions on logging. Endangered species have been protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES, 1979). In addition to CITES, United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (the “Earth Summit,” 1992) produced an agreement to protect the world's biological diversity. The World Wildlife Fund, Greenpeace, and other organizations also have been active in promoting conservation internationally.