The aim of this chapter is to answer the question whether environmental justice could influence the trade–environment debate. At the outset, one needs to define the concept of environmental justice. Environmental injustice in this context occurs whenever some individual or group bears disproportionate environmental risks, or has unequal access to environmental goods. The issue of environmental (in)justice usually arises with respect to the localisation of hazardous plants close to poor urban communities or minorities. Given that they have fewer resources to defend their interests than richer communities, these poor neighbourhoods have less ability to challenge administrative decisions entailing environmental risks imposed on them. Understood in this sense, environmental (in)justice is largely an American concept, that has never really gained a strong foothold in Europe. Moreover, this topic is related more to polluting installations and access to natural resources than to free trade.
Thanks to the entry into force of the 1994 Marrakesh Agreement, free trade liberalisation in goods and services has been gaining momentum. The WTO provides not only the principal forum for negotiations on multilateral trading issues, its rules underpin to some extent the development of international as well as municipal environmental law. In this context, free trade has been sparking off heated debates also with respect to fairness as to the access to natural resources.
First, free trade has been criticised for widening the economic gaps between nations. Indeed, not every nation is taking advantage of the increase in trading in goods.