Dr. José Luis Rubio has 40 years of activity dedicated to the investigation of soils, their processes of degradation and conservation procedures, with numerous contributions in the scientific literature. He has been a pioneer in numerous aspects related to combating desertification, environmental security and socio-economic consequences of land degradation. He has made significant contributions in institutional aspects, advisory responsibilities and influence on public opinion. He has been a significant actor and leader in the promotion of soil conservation worldwide.
He began his scientific career at the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA, Valencia, Spain) under the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC), studying the dynamics of nutrients in the soils. After his doctorate degree on the study of the dynamics of potassium in the soil he was awarded (1976) with a postdoctoral scholarship from the World Bank and the Spanish Government for further studies in the USA on the use of stable nitrogen isotopes (N15) in the soil plant systems and the dynamics of slow release nitrogen fertilizers that he later applied in Spain. In this context he was a pioneer in scientifically demonstrating the inefficiency in the use of nitrogen fertilizers and their consequent and varied types of environmental impacts like gaseous emissions or nitrate leaching.
Later, his scientific activity was directed towards environmental issues by studying various aspects of Mediterranean terrestrial ecosystems. He was a pioneer in subjects such as development of empirical models of water erosion, restoration of degraded ecosystems, use of rainfall simulators, integrated mapping methodologies and study of the impact of forest fires. As a results, and starting in 1978, he elaborated an Integrated Cartography Framework with the objective of to know for the first time the types of soil in the Valencia province, their degrees and types of degradation and the recommendation of the most appropriate use of them compatible with their stability and sustainability. This novel and comprehensive soil evaluation appraisal was carried out in cooperation with the Unit of Earth Sciences of the University of Valencia. At that time he also started for the first time in Spain and as one of the initials in Europe, the study of the impacts and consequences of forest fires in the soil/land systems (1982).
At the EU level, in 1985 he was appointed, as the Spanish representative, to the Steering Group on Soil Erosion and Conservation of the Directorate-General VI (Agriculture) of the EEC, which was the first scientific advisory body of the EU on issues of erosion control. The Steering Group was the opportunity for him of introducing at European and Spanish level early studies and evaluations on the issue of risk of desertification.
One of the output of these possibilities was his appointment to organize the International Conference on Strategies to Combat Desertification in Mediterranean Europe (Valencia, Spain 7-9 July 1987) sponsored by the EEC, CSIC and Generalitat Valenciana. This conference would be the first in Spain and the second in the EU on the subject of desertification in the Mediterranean and that would later lead to the publication of one of the pioneer books on desertification in the European Mediterranean.
He was one of the founder of the European Society for Soil Conservation –ESSC which took place in Leuven (Belgium) on November 4, 1987 by a group of 18 researchers from 11 European countries. Later J. L. Rubio would be its President during 1998 to 2011.
During those years he contributed significantly, through outreach scientific activities, scientific advice and through the organization of scientific meetings at national and international level, to the emerging awareness and environmental concern mainly in its connection with soil. José L. Rubio has been involved in many scientific and applied activities of land restoration and conservation including the study, evaluation and implementation of soil conservation measures in different dry lands of the world. Some started at the beginning of his career and some of them are today going on. In this specific area some of the activities are: Project on Evaluation and restoration of the coastal dunes system of El Saler (Valencia , Spain) 1980; Study and rehabilitation of the sandy soils of the Devesa de La Albufera (Valencia, Spain) 1986; Various projects in the use of organic urban residues (RSU) and compost in the restoration of degraded land and in forest areas affected by wild fires ( CIDE, Valencia, Spain, Since 1996); Founder and member of the Spanish Network on Compost (2006); Participation in the evaluation of soil conservation initiatives including Traditional Soil and Water Conservation Systems (TSWC) in a number of Mediterranean European countries and African countries (Morocco, Tunisia, Israel, Benin, Namibia, Kenya, Senegal); Co-author of the book chapter “Ecotechnological solutions for unstable slopes. Ground bio and eco engineering techniques and strategies” in the book: “Slope stability and erosion control. Ecothecnological solutions” (2008); Project on Land Restoration in Almeria using soil amendment (Cajamar, Almeria, Spain, 2008)); Collaboration in the application of soil bioengineering for soil conservation after forest fires in Canary Islands (Tenerife, 1997-2008), Andalucia (2004) and Galicia (2007); Scientific Adviser to the project on “Soil Remediation of Contaminated Features in Sek Fields”, Kuwait ( 2013); Responsible of WG in the EU LIFE Project: The Green Link (2016); Organizer and invited key note speaker in a number of international conferences related to soil restoration and soil protection.
In 1993 he was appointed as the Scientific Advisor of the Spanish Delegation during all the process of elaborating the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and he was one of the main actors and writers of the Annex IV to the Convention which deals with the problems of desertification in Mediterranean Europe which was a great scientific-diplomatic success and of important implications in the perception and consideration of the European dimension of desertification. Consequently, he participated in the drafting and elaboration of several editions of the Spanish National Plan to Combat Desertification (PAND, 1996,2000,2008)
He has also participated (WG on Erosion, Desertification) since its beginning (2002) until its withdrawal by the Commission of the EU in 2014, to the numerous attempts to establish a Framework Strategy for Soil Protection in the EU, and later a Soil Framework Directive (2006).
He won the Award Jaime I of the Environmental Protection (1996) which is one of the most important and prestigious scientific prizes of Spain and better economically endowed. The awarded Rey Jaime I become part of the High Consultative Council in R+D+i to the Presidency of the Valencian Government. He has been for several terms the President of the Environment Commission of said High Consultative Council.
He was the founder and first director of the Desertification Research Center-CIDE (1996) of Valencia, Spain, which was the first European research center fully focused on the desertification thematic.
In 1996 he led the team that participated in the call of the European Environment Agency for the award of the European Topic Center (ETC) on Soil, coordinating a proposal that included a consortium of several prestigious European centers from five EU countries. The proposal won the award of the ETC for CIDE, Valencia, Spain competing with several others proposals and he began its first Project Leader.
He has been the director of Environmental Observatory of the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia and is the Secretary of the Experts Committee of the Prince Felipe Museum of Science in Valencia with the aim of promoting knowledge and raising awareness about current environmental problems
Trough time he has been actively involved in the development of a global protocol on the legal and institutional frameworks for the sustainable use of soil under different initiatives such as IUCN, the International Union of Soil Sciences (IUSS) and later on the current Global Soil Partnership of FAO, which has the main objective of to create a world soil mechanism to assist to UN bodies and conventions
He is one of the promoters of the concept of soil security by linking land degradation and desertification processes with extreme socio-economics consequences related to environmental security including the rupture of the capacity of soil to provide goods and services and ecological functions; social and political instability; forced displacement and migrations; and conflicts and wars. In this context he was the organizer of three international conferences on desertification as a security issue. Two of them in Valencia: one in 2003 on Desertification in the Mediterranean as a Security Issue (Kepner, Rubio, Mouat and Pedrazzini [eds.], 2006). A second conference was held in Valencia (2007) on “Water Scarcity, Land Degradation and Desertification in the Mediterranean Region:Environment and Security Aspects” both initiatives under the joint auspices of the Spanish OSCE Chairmanship and of the NATO Science for Peace and Security Programme and the collaboration of the ECE, ESSC, Spanish Ministry of Environment and CSIC. The third Conference was in Madrid (2006) on “Desertification and Environmental Security: Consequences and Prevention”.
He also participated on the UNCCD initiative on the subject of soil security: Securitizing the Ground, Grounding Security (UNCCD Issue Paper No. 2; 2009) and others initiatives of OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe). Also by compiling various initiatives related to environmental security he was the main editor of a book on the socio-economic consequences of desertification processes: Human and Socioeconomic Consequences of Desertification (Campus de Excelencia. Servicio de Publicaciones de la Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. Spain. 2009). He has given some key notes and presentations on the subject in some international conferences as for example the 2nd World Conference of WASWAC in Thailand in 2013 or Iceland (2013) and 3nd World Conference of WASWAC in Belgrade in 2016. He also participated organizing a Dialogue Session on the Crucial Role of Soil in Food Security during the 3rd Global Soil Week 2015 in Berlin.
In his research activities his main objectives have been the study and control of desertification processes in Mediterranean environments through knowledge of degradation processes in soil and water at different scales, emphasizing research on the processes of soil erosion, land restoration, impact of climate change, degradation chemistry, physics, hydrology, loss of fertility and soil pollutants, the impact of forest fires, development of new methodologies, the operation of models and their application to spatial representation, the sustainable use soil through the development of assessment methodologies and environmental impact assessment, recommendations for land use, development of planning alternatives and applying new technologies to study, monitor and combat desertification. In the context of the IPCC forecast on the Mediterranean tendency of aridification increase and the risk of desertification he is working into the interlinkages of climate and desertification through the simulation of future scenarios, using models to the design of prevention strategies and adaptation to climate change impacts such as extreme weather phenomena and climate variability. After the 2000s, it was introduced into the study of the socio-economic implications and consequences of soil / land degradation processes.
He also has been involved in training tasks and academic and advisory work at regional, national and international level.
On the subjects of their specialty he has made an intense scientific advice to many national and international organizations and institutions (CSIC, ANEP. MIMAM, European Parliament, FAO, European Commission. European Parliament, OSCE, OECD, UNEP, NATO) and the organization and direction of numerous meetings and conferences at national and international level.
He has taken part in 23 R&D Spanish and European projects, (Project leader in 11) and is author or co-author of 31 books, over a hundred seventy scientific articles, eighty book chapters, direction of 12 PhD Thesis, numerous outreach contribution and interventions in TV programs.
He belongs to numerous committees of organizations and associations dedicated to land global environmental problems. Some of them are: Deputy President of the World Association of Soil and Water Conservation (WASWAC) and President of its International Cooperation Committee; Past President and member of the Executive Committee of the ESSC, member of the Board of Directors of the International Soil Conservation Organization (ISCO); Vice President of the European Soil Bureau (ESBN, JRC, EU), member of the Advisory Board of DeserNet International (DNI), member of WOCAT (Network of World Overview of Conservation Approaches and Technologies) and others.
At present he is administratively retired from his institutional responsibility as Chief of the Department of Soil Degradation and Soil Conservation at CIDE but keeping close relationship with the Department and keeping very active on scientific, organizational, advisory and out-reach initiatives
Throughout his career he has received several awards and recognitions. Some of them are the following. In 2003 he received the Gold Medal of the Polish Academy of Soil Science. The Council of the European Society for Soil Conservation, at its meeting held in Thessaloniki (Greece) during the 6th ESSC International Congress (May,2011), conferred on Prof. Dr. José Luis Rubio the “Gerold Richter award 2011” for his successful career of scientific contribution to soil conservation and to increased social awareness of soil degradation problems. In 2013 he received the Premio de Honor of the AAA of Politecnic Universiry of Valencia for his scientific contributions. In 2015 he received the award “For Advance in Soil Functions Analysis and Conservation” Environmentally Sustainable Soil Cube ESSC 2015 given by the Russian State Agricultural University of Moscow. In 2018 he received the Distinguished Service Award from ESSC. In November 2019 he received the Norman Hudson Memorial Award from the World Association of Soil and Water Conservation-WASWAC.