In spite of reforms since the end of the colonial period and more-recent discourses of participation and democracy, the forestry policy environment rarely supports the needs or aspirations of rural communities. Even when policies appear fair, the rural poor face severe biases in implementation. In addition, the poor must compete on an uneven playing field of class, ethnic and other social inequities and economic hurdles. With the development of the global forest (carbon) conservation strategy such as Reduced Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation (REDD), which is ushering in accelerated forest commodification, poor people living in forests risk further marginalisation, exclusion and rights abuses. This article examines how forestry policy and implementation maintain double standards on this uneven playing field in a manner that continues to exclude the rural poor from the natural wealth around them. Poverty is not just about being left out of economic growth. It is produced by the very policies that enable some to profit - today from timber, firewood and charcoal, tomorrow from carbon. For REDD interventions to support poverty alleviation, forestry policies must be radically reworked to counterbalance widespread regressive policies and structural asymmetries. To make forestry policy emancipatory, strong social protections or safeguards are still needed that require REDD and other interventions to support and work through local democratic institutions. Otherwise these policies will continue their regressive trends.