This paper investigates the role of forest tenure in creating a sustainable and effective mechanism on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+). It draws together existing knowledge and experience of forest tenure issues as they play out in real contexts, and evaluates their implications for REDD+. In particular, it challenges the argument that simply harmonising different tenure systems will lead to improved tenure security and ensure that REDD+ does not disenfranchise local communities. By bringing to light the ways in which local tenure could shape the implementation of REDD+, this paper provides insights that can contribute to the design of a sustainable, effective and equitable REDD+ agreement. The findings suggest that a more nuanced and locally specific understanding of tenure security and ownership are required in order to create favourable grounds for REDD+ implementation.