Since 2007 many developing countries have laid groundwork for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation and sustainable management and conservation of forests (REDD +) under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). REDD + is aimed at incentivizing forest conservation and management in developing countries through policy programmers and local projects, which should in theory enhance the participation of very diverse actors in forest policy and governance. Here we explore the early years of REDD + in Mexico focusing on the alleged “participatory” nature of the REDD + initiative. Based on interviews and field observations with those involved in drafting the REDD + national strategy and in the implementation of small-scale pilot project activities, we investigate the meaning of participation for REDD + actors, their aspirations in this regard, and how procedural justice issues are being considered in early policy implementation. We demonstrate that the process set in motion to draft the strategy did not sufficiently involve sub-national governance levels, thus reducing the legitimacy of REDD + efforts, particularly in rural communities. We suggest that rural local actors should be further involved in REDD + decision-making forums, be provided with more information for a good understanding of REDD + implementation (e.g., pilot projects), and most importantly, be given a real chance to implement REDD + activities grounded on their own institutions and land-use practices.