A process for reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries has been initiated under the UNFCCC. Efforts to agree on a legally binding instrument to halt deforestation have previously failed in other international fora. The magnitude of the social, economic, technical and political complexities underlying deforestation have led to negotiations being challenging. What policy instruments could provide incentives to reduce deforestation, and how could these instruments be framed, under the UNFCCC? This article analyses the advantages and disadvantages of the available alternatives within and outside of the Kyoto Protocol. Staying within the Kyoto framework means low institutional development costs, established but limited incentives for action, and low flexibility. Alternatives outside the Protocol provide higher institutional development costs, uncertainties with regard to the incentives, but greater flexibility. We argue that a separate protocol may be the most viable option, as it could offer the necessary flexibility and avoid some technical and political pitfalls that would be likely to beset new efforts under the Kyoto Protocol. The article also presents the concept of ‘committed forests' as a means of defining geographically where the reduction of emissions from deforestation can take place.