Growing attention to climate change around the world has led to a wide array of policy measures to mitigate its effects. In the tropics, this has led to the proposal of mechanisms to change land use patterns in order to reduce carbon emissions, or promote carbon capture and storage. The rural communities that depend on these resources have increasingly been included in discussions around these mechanisms, in the hopes that rural development could be promoted simultaneously with climate change mitigation. Success in achieving these dual goals has been elusive however, driving continued debates around which territories, actors and mechanisms are best suited to support these efforts. This policy brief examines these issues in the light of new research on smallholder coffee agroforestry, recent evidence on sustainable forest management, and experiences with reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation, forest conservation, sustainable management of forests, and the enhancement of carbon stocks (REDD+). In Mesoamerica, it is becoming increasingly clear that smallholder coffee farmers and forest communities can contribute significantly to mitigate climate change, yet existing mechanisms have offered few avenues for benefitting these actors, and in some cases even threaten to undermine their livelihoods. This work examines these challenges and proposes alternative approaches to climate change mechanisms that could generate opportunities to more meaningfully incorporate and benefit local actors.