REDD projects have received considerable attention for their potential to mitigate the effects of climatic change. However, the existing literature has been slow to assess the impacts of proposed REDD projects on the livelihoods of forest communities in the developing world, or the implications of these local realities for the success of REDD+ initiatives in general. This study presents ethnographic research conducted with communities within the April-Salomei pilot REDD+ Project in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Several cases of institutional biases and uneven power relationships have been exploited by local elites to prevent landowners from making free and informed choices about their involvement in the project, although landowners and local communities are well positioned to capture forthcoming project benefits. By underestimating the scale and impact of traditional shifting cultivation practices, the credibility of the REDD+ project design and the value of any future carbon credits are critically undermined. Based on the actual practices found in PNG, the authors' radical proposal is to call for a halt on REDD development in PNG while institutional enabling conditions are improved, comprehensive landowner consultations conducted, and detailed mapping and genealogical surveys of landowners completed. Without these developments, future REDD+ projects in PNG are unlikely to benefit either the global climate or local development.