Background: To understand Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) governance processes and discuss projects' contribution to their dual aim of reducing emissions and promoting sustainable development, we investigate the case of Mexico; the fourth largest CDM recipient country, with a project portfolio dominated by methane avoidance and landfill gas initiatives, and to a lesser extent by wind energy projects. Results: The country's CDM portfolio results from the interplay of private actors' entrepreneurship with supportive government-led institutions and regulatory frameworks that favor project development. Analyzing the performance of three representative projects, we demonstrate that the existence of conflicting public-private partnerships, the lack of participatory project design approaches and ineffective technology and knowledge-transfer mechanisms have limited the provision of significant environmental and socioeconomic benefits. Conclusion: CDM outcomes cannot be anticipated unless a detailed and contextualized analysis of governance at national and local scales is undertaken. © 2012 Future Science Ltd.