Deforestation and forest degradation represent an important part of global CO2 emissions. The identification of the multiple drivers of land-use change, past and present forest cover change and associated carbon budget, and the presence of locally adapted systems to allow for proper monitoring are particularly lacking in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). Any incentive system to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) will have to overcome those limits. This paper reviews the main challenges to implementing effective REDD+ mitigation activities in SSA. We estimate that SSA is currently a net carbon sink of approximately 319 TgCO2 yr−1. Forest degradation and deforestation put the forest carbon stock at risk (mean forest carbon stock is 57,679 TgC). Our results highlight the importance of looking beyond the forest sector to ensure that REDD+ efforts are aligned with agricultural and land-use policies.