Burning of savanna is a globally important source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In Australia, burning of savanna contributes between 2% and 4% annually of the nation's reportable emissions. Complete removal of this source of emissions is unrealistic because fire is a ubiquitous natural process and important land-management tool. In the rangelands of northern Australia, fire is used to manage habitat for conservation, control woodland thickening, manipulate pastures for grazing and is an essential component of indigenous cultural and land-management practice. There has been a concerted attempt in recent times to move away from complete fire suppression and its consequence: frequent, extensive and high intensity wildfires occurring late in the dry season. In fire-adapted vegetation types, prescribed early dry season fires help reduce the incidence of late season wildfires and consequently the amount of GHG emissions produced. The emergence of a carbon economy affords a potential opportunity for land managers to diversify their livelihoods by adopting fire-management practices that reduce GHG emissions and increase carbon sequestration. However, in order to realise benefits from this emerging economy, there is a need to identify and address a range of barriers affecting community participation. The papers in this Special Issue document current scientific knowledge, policy issues and pathways to participation, with particular reference to Australia's savanna rangelands. This introductory paper outlines how northern Australia has both the opportunity and requirement to develop a diversified rangelands economy to realise multiple conservation, economic and emissions outcomes.