Changes in REDD+ over the past five years have led to significant shifts in the size and composition of financing and the likely pace and cost of implementation, as well as to the divergence of interests across actors and levels. Challenges resulting from these changes include increased ‘aid-ification,’ sequencing problems faced by project proponents and uncertain rewards from REDD+ efforts by forest countries and communities. Lessons learned from the first generation of REDD+ initiatives include the importance of the jurisdictional scale in between national and local levels for land use decision making, the need for cross-scale coordination to address issues such as tenure, benefit sharing and monitoring and the tenacity of interests and institutions associated with business as usual. To move forward, REDD+ objectives must be clarified and strategies developed to bridge the financial gap created by the lack of a new international climate agreement. Pending greater certainty regarding the future of REDD+, priority should be given to ‘no regrets’ policy reforms that are desirable, regardless of climate objectives, and to building constituencies and capacities critical to the eventual success of REDD+.