Ensuring sustainability of earth systems is intrinsically dependent on the incorporation of equity and fairness in the regimes and institutions that govern the global economy. Accordingly, to design effective and just earth system governance (ESG), it is crucial to understand how the global economic system affects access to and allocation of environmental benefits and burdens among people and countries around the world and what are the relevant causal mechanisms. By focusing on trade and investment as two predominant elements of today’s global economic system, this paper reviews the literature developed within the ESG project in 2008–2017 to explore the relationships between the global economic system and access to and allocation of environmental benefits and burdens. Our review shows that ESG scholarship has begun to highlight the dynamics of unfair access and allocation deriving from the global economic system, ranging from the direct impacts of trade and investment on environmental inequality and socioeconomic opportunities to the indirect equity implications of certification schemes, environmental decision-making processes and environmentally motivated restrictions in international trade and investment regimes. However, it also notes that critical questions about the identity of vulnerable groups and the potential pathways for more equitable sharing of benefits and burdens remain understudied by ESG scholars. Hence, we call for more critical analysis of the role of the global economic system in perpetuating unsustainable patterns of access and allocation in ESG, as well as research about the local impacts of the global economic system on environmental access and allocation.