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The American Nonprofit With a Hand in China’s Five-Year Plan

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A worker clears a conveyer belt used to transport coal, near a coal mine at Datong, in China's northern Shanxi province. Photograph by Greg Baker — AFP via Getty Images

Recent politics in China have had a decidedly anti-foreign bias (harsher rules on foreign media; a crackdown on international NGOs), but foreign experts as much as anyone shaped one of the key themes of the Communist Party’s new five-year plan to be released this weekend.

As today’s Beijing’s smoggy skies confirmed (during the important government meetings starting Friday, no less), China’s got a pollution problem. For that, it has turned to foreigners.

The Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado, an influential nonprofit researching sustainability, is one of the foreign groups whose research is being used to shape Chinese environmental policy.

“I have just received word in the form of certified letters from four Chinese ministry departments commending us for the quality of our research, and stating that our Reinventing Fire: China analysis has been used directly to create the energy strategy in the 13th Five Year Plan,” RMI founder Amory Lovins wrote to donors last year in a letter obtained by Fortune.

Every nonprofit boasts when writing about its research being used by governments. Nevertheless, RMI’s is notable for its customer.

RMI said it has worked with China’s Energy Research Institute, the policy group advising the country’s agenda-setting National Development and Reform Commission, which drafts the five-year plans in a holdover from the times when China consciously mimicked the Soviet Union.

Green development, urbanization, and state-owned company reforms are expected to be the core themes of the new plan for 2016-2020. It should also include annual GDP growth targets of 6.5%-7%, according to rumors in the Chinese press.

RMI’s report called “Reinventing Fire: China” hasn’t been fully released, but it purports to show how China can source more than half its energy supply from renewables and cut its greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds by 2050 without sacrificing economic growth. Jon Creyts, the director of RMI’s China Program, told Fortune, “The Reinventing Fire: China collaboration was an exploratory effort for RMI to see how our thought leadership would be received in China. Given its strong uptake, we elected to start a Beijing office” last summer.

China has often adopted ideas from outside its borders. Carbon emissions targets based upon carbon per unit of GDP came from U.S. nonprofit Resources for the Future. The U.S. Department of Energy has also been involved in road mapping projects for consideration in China’s five-year plans.

The RMI news shows that cooperation is continuing, despite the political headwinds.