© 2018 The Author(s). Electrochemical oxygen reduction has garnered attention as an emerging alternative to the traditional anthraquinone oxidation process to enable the distributed production of hydrogen peroxide. Here, we demonstrate a selective and efficient non-precious electrocatalyst, prepared through an easily scalable mild thermal reduction of graphene oxide, to form hydrogen peroxide from oxygen. During oxygen reduction, certain variants of the mildly reduced graphene oxide electrocatalyst exhibit highly selective and stable peroxide formation activity at low overpotentials (<10 mV) under basic conditions, exceeding the performance of current state-of-the-art alkaline catalysts. Spectroscopic structural characterization and in situ Raman spectroelectrochemistry provide strong evidence that sp 2-hybridized carbon near-ring ether defects along sheet edges are the most active sites for peroxide production, providing new insight into the electrocatalytic design of carbon-based materials for effective peroxide production.