Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is envisioned as a performance-based incentive to influence forest use behavior and governance towards the preservation and management of forests. In relatively forest-rich Lao PDR, the policy space that REDD+ planners are attempting to navigate is populated by enduring political and economic interests that affect the country's forest estate. A further layer to the problem of REDD+ planning is the tension between often expert-driven, externally proposed solutions; national ownership over interventions; and the extent of political will to take action to reform currently unsustainable patterns of forest and forest land exploitation. This paper draws from a series of semi-structured interviews conducted in 2013-2014, to develop a political and institutional analysis of the limitations to the effectiveness of REDD+ in steering towards a lower forest-derived emissions trajectory in Lao PDR. While internationally-driven projects follow long-standing national objectives to varying degrees, it remains unclear how REDD+ can target main drivers of deforestation in the absence of a more politically engaged and nationally-owned planning process, that also challenges the prevailing logic of avoiding these drivers. Despite the importance of improving domestic ownership over REDD+, this would arguably be of limited impact unless oriented towards transformational change that would seek to overcome political and economic barriers to avoided deforestation. Stronger ownership could be developed via more mutually driven REDD+ planning, while tackling main drivers of deforestation necessitates as a starting point the engagement of powerful actors that have so far been absent from REDD+ debate.