EU lawmakers give final approval to bloc's green transition fund

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FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: A power-generating windmill turbine is pictured during sunset at a renewable energy park in Ecoust-Saint-Mein, France

By Kate Abnett

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament on Tuesday formally approved the European Union's multi-billion euro fund to support countries as they wind down fossil fuel industries, as the bloc overhauls its economy to fight climate change.

The 17.5 billion euro ($21.37 billion) Just Transition Fund (JTF) combines cash from the EU's budget and its COVID-19 recovery fund.

It will support communities most affected by plans to shut down coal, peat and oil shale sectors, or other emissions-intensive industries, and replace them with low-carbon industries and jobs -- a transformation seen as key to meeting the EU's target to eliminate its net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

EU lawmakers approved the fund with 615 votes in favour, 35 against and 46 abstentions. The JTF needs final approval from the EU's 27 countries, expected in June, but that is a formal procedure and will not change any details.

"JTF is a key tool to ensure the transition towards climate neutral economy happens in a fair way, leaving no one behind," Greek lawmaker Manolis Kefalogiannis, parliament's lead legislator on the fund, told the assembly on Monday.

German Green lawmaker Niklas Nienass praised the terms of the fund, which cannot be spent on nuclear energy or fossil fuels including natural gas.

However, he said it could not offer sufficient support to regions in need, because EU member states had refused requests from the European Commission and parliament to increase it.

"It's just too small," Niklas said.

Poland, which employs over half of the roughly 230,000 people working in Europe's coal industry, is in line for the biggest share, followed by Germany and Romania, both home to coal-mining regions.

To access the money, regions must submit plans detailing how they intend to manage mine closures and retrain workers. The European Commission has warned Poland that its plan to extend the life of a coal mine in Turow until 2044 could cost the region its share of the fund.

($1 = 0.8188 euros)

(Reporting by Kate Abnett; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)