There is renewed interest in identifying the causes of deforestation because it contributes about 17% of the annual emissions of greenhouse gases. Despite considerable efforts, universal causes of tropical deforestation remain elusive. The existing models of tropical deforestation are assessed, and the problems involved in approaching the issue through the lens of governance reforms are examined. Although corruption continues to thrive, global and local economic incentives remain powerful motivating forces for deforestation. Because of the variation in regional and country causes, it may not be possible to derive a more unified theory, and general models of deforestation will continue to lack predictive value. Policies that demand reform in developing countries with high rates of deforestation will be ineffective unless they address the power, incentives and culture of local political elites.