The design and implementation of REDD+ projects requires understanding the local ecological, economic and social context. This paper analyzes how REDD+ influences the context of ecosystem management, from both a conceptual and an ecosystem-scale perspective. We analyze how REDD+ changes the economic interests in ecosystem management for different stakeholders, and present a case study demonstrating the economic benefits of sustainable forest use versus oil palm plantation in Indonesia. We also analyze the economic costs of carbon emissions from land use conversion, and show that in Kalimantan, Indonesia, net revenues from REDD+ need to be US$ 3/ton CO2 to allow sustainable forest use to compete with oil palm on peat, and US$ 7/ton CO2 for mineral soil. Subsequently we present four insights from our ecosystem analysis relevant for REDD+.